A new Martin Scorsese film will always be one of the most anticipated films of the year, regardless of when it’s released or what it’s about. That is what happens when your previous films include such works as Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Raging Bull, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street and too many other movies now considered to be modern classics to name.
Nevertheless, Scorsese’s new film Silence is an even bigger deal than usual, being based on a celebrated historical novel that Scorsese has been wanting to bring to the big screen for decades. It features a cast that includes Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano and Ciarán Hinds, plus a runtime for its theatrical cut that is pretty hefty… though not as hefty as that for an earlier cut of the film.
Deadline was informed by Silence producer Irwin Winkler that the film – which ran over three hours in its earlier cut – is now down to a more manageable 2 hour and 39 minute runtime. While still fairly long, that puts the film much more in line with traditional expectations for awards season-friendly historical dramas.
Based on the novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō, the film is a semi-fictionalized account of the persecution of Christians in 17th Century Japan. Garfield plays a Portuguese Jesuit Priest who arrives in Japan investigating the fate of his mentor (Neeson), who was reported to have betrayed his faith amid a widespread crackdown by the Tokugawa Shogunate on Japan’s so-called “Hidden Christians” in the wake of the failed Shimbara Rebellion in 1637. He discovers that the government is forcing Priests to choose between committing acts of blasphemy or seeing suspected Japanese Christians brutally tortured in front of them, and is ultimately forced to reckon with this choice himself.
The film marks Garfield’s second role this year as a religiously-devout martyr figure, as he also has the lead role in Mel Gibson’s true story-based Hacksaw Ridge. There, Garfield plays a pacifist WWII medic who endures mockery from fellow soldiers and brutality from enemies following his decision to go into battle unarmed. When he spoke to Deadline about Scorsese and Gibson’s markedly different styles, Garfield said:
“Mel likes to mess around with different takes. He keeps the set light; he likes to keep everyone light. I like to do more focus, and he pissed me off so much and we’d just laugh about it because he knew what he was doing. Whereas Mr. Scorsese creates this kind of sacred circle on the set always, this invisible circle. He requires absolute silence (no pun), which is gorgeous and also terrifying because then you know there is something sacred happening, there’s like a ritual you are about to perform and anything can happen within this circle. Both methods work.”
The original Silence book is widely celebrated in Japan, where Endō claimed that it was inspired by his own experiences with discrimination as a member of the nation’s minority Catholic population (along with his struggles with tuberculosis) and it has been adapted for the screen and stage before. However, the novel has also frequently proven controversial in the West, owing to concerns that it could be used to inflame prejudice against Japan and Japanese-Americans.