Cannes has given us many memorable moments, but perhaps none as much as the press conference in which Martin Scorsese announced that his next film, following “Killers of the Flower Moon,” will be a movie about Jesus Christ. After a tour of Italy, which brought him and other artists of all kinds to a presentation before Pope Francis, he said that the work of artists “helps us see Jesus, healing our imagination from everything that obscures his face,” with the duty of artists being “not to explain the mystery of Christ, which is truly inexhaustible, but to make us touch it.” In relation to that, Scorsese has decided to embark on the task in the only way he knows how: through a film.
Many people may be surprised. Martin Scorsese and Jesus Christ may sound like two things that are not even close. Not for those who are not familiar with Scorsese’s work. The reality is that Christianity has always been very present in his work, being an explicit part of several of his films, as well as an implicit pivotal element in most of the others. Scorsese is a good Catholic boy, and that is evident in his movies. Something we are going to demonstrate in this article.
Guilt is a theme present in many of his films.
If there is a prominent theme in Martin Scorsese’s films, it is guilt. Many of his characters are driven by the guilt they feel for their actions, for the lives they have led, even when it is not explicitly stated within the film. This is something that is closely associated with Catholicism, which is not found in virtually any other religion and is not even as predominant or important in other branches of Christianity as it is in Catholicism.
That’s why films like Shutter Island, The Irishman, Mean Streets, or The Departed deal precisely with this. They portray individuals tormented by guilt, by what they have done, and by the awareness that they cannot redeem themselves in the eyes of God, the people they love, or even themselves. That’s why these films are so impactful. They resonate deeply with us, especially with the European audience. We recognize something very close to our culture that is often absent from Hollywood cinema but is very present in Martin Scorsese’s films.
Silence is a film that speaks explicitly about religious doubt
While it is true that guilt is the backbone of Catholicism, it is undeniable that the nervous system of that guilt is none other than doubt. While the Church conveniently likes to forget that doubt is not only not condemned but celebrated and an intrinsic part of the experience of communion with Christ, undoubtedly there would be no guilt to be relieved in the presence of God. Except when all we are left with in the face of the fact that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for us is the silence of God.
Silence, a film released in 2006 and based on the novel of the same name by Japanese author Shūsaku Endō, starts from this premise. Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us, which means that God does not need to communicate with us because we are already saved. This means that no matter how much guilt we feel or how many doubts we have, God has already shown us that He is there and we are saved. In a nearly three-hour film about Jesuit missionaries in 16th-century Japan, where Christianity was forbidden, this leads to some of the most aesthetically spectacular shots and sequences in Scorsese’s career, and one of his films with a more implicit message. There is only silence. God will not respond to any prayers. You have to believe in salvation because Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins you may have committed. Now you will have to live through life with that guilt and doubt.
It wouldn’t even be the first film he has made about Jesus Christ
In fact, guilt and doubt are a central part of a Martin Scorsese film that was extremely controversial and whose protagonist was none other than Jesus of Nazareth. Because The Last Temptation of Christ, a film that adapts the novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis and whose screenplay was written by Paul Schrader – who, by the way, also has a marked obsession with Catholicism – is one of his most famous and controversial films. Particularly within the Catholic Church itself.
Not following the events narrated in the Gospels, but recreating what could be the last days of Jesus as he was tempted in multiple ways by Satan, the film tells us how Jesus was first human and then divine. That means that this is a Christ who errs, who feels guilt, and who, while he redeems himself and ends up on the cross, does so only after demonstrating that the process of accepting God must be conscious. There is no point in Jesus allowing himself to be crucified on the cross because he is the son of God if he does not willingly and enthusiastically accept being crucified. Something that Scorsese himself knows does not fit in with the institutional Catholicism of today, but it does fit in with the primitive Catholicism of Jesus Christ himself.
Nor about religious leaders in general
In fact, the need for the acceptance of one’s own position independently of divine destiny is something much more Eastern than Western. It is something that is not even present at all in non-Catholic Christianity, where condemnation and salvation is divine dictate without human intervention. So it should come as no surprise that Scorsese’s next film after a movie about Jesus Christ was about another spiritual leader: about the Dalai Lama.
In Kundun, adapted from Melissa Mathison’s biography, he tells the life story of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, the political and spiritual leader of Tibet in exile. Narrating that exile, his attempt to fight for the welfare of his people and finally, the acceptance of his position when at the end of the film he is asked if he is the Buddha, answering “I consider that I am his reflection, like the moon in the water”, the film reinforces the position already told in The Last Passion of the Christ. Divinity is not something guaranteed by birth, but by actions. When we see Jesus Christ or the Dalai Lama, we see the best possible version of the human being, with his doubts and his achievements, and for that, we are inspired. Because ultimately, that is what Scorsese seeks to portray: how the human experience is mediated by that awareness that, at least in life, we will never have answers to how we feel.
Some of the links added in the article are part of affiliate campaigns and may represent benefits for Softonic.