By Mark Ellis
Academy Award winning director Martin Scorsese spoke at Fuller Seminary recently after a private screening of his new film Silence, the formidable saga of Jesuit missionaries in 17th-century Japan based on the novel by Shusaku Endo.
At the screening, Scorsese reflected on his years-long struggle to make the film and its impact on his Christian faith.
“Where do I go to find the meaning of existence and the meaning of life? For me, it’s Christianity,” Scorsese told Brehm Center Director Mako Fujimura (who served as a consultant to the film) and Kutter Callaway, an asst. professor of theology and culture at Fuller.
Without the love and compassion inherent in Christianity, there is little hope for humanity, he said. “This is the real saving grace of our world, of our species, really,” he declared.
Scorsese has been thinking about the book and the film project since 1989. “Reading over the last 20 years I’ve found authors apologizing for a Christian attitude, another one saying, ‘This seems disturbingly Christian.’”
“Is that getting into the politics of it, or does it mean that compassion and love for each other is wrong? What is going to happen if we don’t have that? The species is over,” he said.
Many years ago, as a student at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx , Scorsese’s admiration for a young priest caused him to seriously consider entering the priesthood, but that gave way to a passion for cinema.
“If you haven’t given your life to the calling, if one is not clergy, how does one express and live a true Christian life? How does one live out Christianity in daily life? How does one do it?” he asked.
Scorsese says faith should flow into every aspect of life. “We don’t make religion something that’s foreign, separate from life, that’s the key,” he noted.
“I felt the idea of Christianity had to be reinvented in cinema to make it accessible to the young generation.” He said he struggled, however, to know how to handle the voice of Jesus in the film Silence.
“What do we have to do to make Christianity real, to realize it? How do we behave? What do we do? What do we say? We make mistakes but then we move back. For me, it starts on the foot soldier level. It starts with you individually. It could be with your wife or your kids, good, if you can work that out.”
Scorsese struggles at times with some of the historical reproaches leveled against the faith. “For me it is weathering all the criticisms that have come up over the centuries about Christianity. Weathering that negative, combative spirit that has been around for many years, weathering it so we protect that kernel of faith within ourselves.”
Through these challenges, greater clarity can emerge. “Maybe by having it tested constantly, we might find the truth of it. Know the truth is within the behavior of yourself in daily life. It has to be there (authenticity).”
“How do you spread the word? How do you make the change? It begins with our behavior, how we deal with (hurting people). It sounds small, but it’s not easy. If you go to a hospital or deal with people who are sick – how do you do that? It’s very hard, but that’s where it begins. That’s how you get to the truth of it. Without compassion and love there won’t be any species.”