Martin Scorsese, Academy Award winner and director of the new film Silence, joined Fuller Theological Seminary faculty for a private screening of the movie, followed by a discussion about faith. The sold-out screening and interview with Scorsese, held at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 Theatre in Pasadena, was coordinated through Reel Spirituality, an initiative of the Fuller's Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts at Fuller Seminary.
Based upon the 1966 novel by Japanese Catholic writer Shūsaku Endō, which sold 800,000 copies in Japan and with Endō considered for the Nobel Prize, Silence tells the story of 17th century Jesuit missionaries attempting to make inroads for the gospel in the inhospitable religio-cultural terrain of Japan, where they experience intense persecution by a shogunate determined to eradicate Christianity's influence there.
Scorsese chose Fuller as a partner for the screening due to his interests in pursuing the theological conversations evident within Silence, and in those throughout his career, especially related to the intersection of theology, film, and culture
"I hoped this film would reach you, Fuller; you, the religious community. But I also hoped it was wider than that and not that narrow," Scorsese said.
Scorsese's films often functioned as a "quasi-autobiography of his religious convictions and struggles." Prior to pursuing a career in film, he attended a year of seminary in pursuit of the priesthood.
He said exploring what it meant to live a daily Christian life was the impetus behind completing Silence. "How does one, if they are not able to or are not clergy, how does one express and live a true Christian life?" he posed.
Kutter Callaway, Fuller assistant professor of theology and culture, moderated the post-screening Silence discussion with Scorsese and the Brehm Center's Makoto Fujimura. The topic is of special interest to Callaway, who has lent his cultural and theological expertise to numerous projects, such as Morgan Freeman's television series The Story of God.
Scorsese commissioned Mako Fujimura, director of Fuller's Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts, as a consultant for Silence. "It has been an honor to advise Mr. Scorsese on this film Silence as a special advisor," said Fujimura. "This film truly honors Endō [author of the novel on which the film is based] and the martyrs of the Japanese past; it is a profound gift given to the generations to come."
Fuller sources indicate Fujimura released the book Silence and Beauty, a theological companion to the novel Silence, in May 2016, and he functioned as a theological and cultural advisor to Scorsese throughout the filming process.
"Makoto Fujimura is a remarkable artist and writer and his engagement with the writings of the great Shūsaku Endō-and Silence in particular-is deep and impassioned, as you will discover on every page of this book," said Scorsese. "By way of response to a great artist, Fujimura has created a quietly eloquent meditation on art and faith, and where they converge."
Silence, Scorsese said in an interview with Commonweal magazine, was a working-out of his faith through film and is what sustained him: "[Silence] kept me going, because I knew that stripping away everything ultimately comes down to God and you. What if you're alone? In Silence, ultimately it's Father Rodrigues alone, God and him. That's what it comes down to. And it comes down to the examination of what is God, who is God?"
"In this 'life-work' of a 27-year journey for Martin Scorsese, I have seen firsthand an artist/master wrestling with issues of faith and culture to journey into one of the greatest stories of 20th century literature, Shūsaku Endō's masterpiece Silence," said Fujimura.
"Mr. Scorsese's journey exemplifies what I have been calling a 'Culture Care' journey in which we address issues of trauma, cultural divides, and the presence of authentic faith in the midst of suffering and persecution."