A title, one short synopsis and two stills…
That’s all we have so far from Silence, the next helping from Martin Scorcese. There’s no trailer, release date, nor has it yet made its way to any festivals – despite being heavily touted for a Cannes premiere. However, in spite of this vacuum of information surrounding the project, it’s already the anticipated film of 2016.
On paper, this too out of the ordinary. It’s Scorcese, for crying out loud. As modern cinema’s premier auteur, he could announce a Teletubbies biopic and film scholars around the globe would wilt in lustful anticipation. But with Silence, information is particularly scarce. All we’ve been given is that ‘in the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Christianity’, and that Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver will be starring.
A certain quality is always expected from a Martin Scorcese film, but there seems to be an almost metaphysical, conjectural air about the period piece – to the extent where you begin to question whether it’s even real or not.
There’s a reason for this. The film has lived on the dusty shelves of Scorcese’s passion project cabinet for what feels like an age, alongside his fabled Sinatra biopic (which is still yet to come to fruition) and The Irishman (which was bought by Stx at Cannes for a colossal $50 million, and will now begin production in 2017 – starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, no less). It has been announced and postponed with fluctuating frustration, and in a past life, almost starred Daniel Day Lewis, Benicio Del Toro and Gael Garcia Bernal – all of whom dropped out when the production was repeatedly delayed in favour of other productions.
For a while, it looked as if Silence was going to join the mythical elite of ‘almost-films’, keeping Tarantino’s Double V Vega and Kubrick’s Napoleon. That was until the unthinkable happened: it started shooting.
Before there was an opportunity for even the remotest of scepticism, the film had wrapped. It was done. Dusted. In post-production. Going to happen. Yet, despite its completion, nobody still knew anything about it. Somehow, Scorcese had managed to make Silence without eradicating its status as an almost-film, forcing the population to read between the lines.
So read we did.
Silence is Scorcese’s first return to the period piece since 2002’s epic Gangs of New York. He’s using the same screenwriter, Jay Cocks, who provided Daniel Day Lewis’s Bill The Butcher with some of the most memorable monologues in recent cinematic memory. The part of Father Ferreria was written with Day Lewis in mind, so it’d be safe to assume (and assuming is exactly what we’re doing) that there’s going to be some delicious, hefty dialogue for the character now being played by Liam Neeson.
Which brings us onto Neeson. Since his remodelling as a middle-aged action hero, you’d be forgiven for forgetting about how good an actor the Irishman really is (Schindler’s List, anyone?). His role in Gangs of New York was enigmatic but far too brief, so the prospect of him getting his teeth firmly into a Scorcese film is an enormously exciting one. He’s flanked, either side, by two of the finest young actors working today in Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver – both making their debuts under the director. One of the two released images show Garfield as almost unrecognisable, bony and bearded, whilst Neeson has remarked in interviews about the weight loss commitments the three stars made.
Religion, too, is clearly going to play an integral part in Silence. As a director, Scorcese has an interesting relationship with religious matter – take Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ, for instance. Whilst these two films deal with the subject overtly, religion and spirituality are perpetual factors in the Scorcese canon. Catholicism is as mighty a force as the mob hierarchy in Goodfellas, whilst you don’t have to be the sharpest of observers to recognise the satanic connotations of Jack Nicholson’s Frank Costello in The Departed, with whom Matt Damon’s character literally makes a Faustian bargain. The director has produced some of his finest work when exploring the affiliation between religion and violence, and going by Silence’s synopsis, this is literally what the film is going to be about.
Because of the extreme absence of information regarding the film, this kind of hypothesising has taken the lead role in discussions about it. Is Liam Neeson going to grab a second Oscar nomination? Will Andrew Garfield get his first? How controversial is the subject matter? During what scene will Gimme Shelter play? In a culture where secrets are rare and spoilers are plenty, Silence’s inscrutable nature makes it a welcome anomaly. We’re excited, because we have no reason not to be.
Sometimes, Silence is golden.
Words by Niall Flynn