God’s Gangster: “Silence” Screenplay Review
“Silence” written by Jay Cocks
Revised First Draft: February 7, 2006
“You are now going to perform the most painful act of love that has ever been performed.” No, this is not a quote from “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but from Jay Cocks‘ eight year-old revised first draft of his adaptation of Shusaku Endo‘s novel “Silence,” scheduled to be directed by Martin Scorsese.
Scorsese has said of this project: “it’s a religious subject, but the mystery that I’m talking about, Rodrigues’ conflict with himself, and the essence of Christianity – which is something I believe in strongly – is timeless, and has to do with who we are as human beings.”
In other words: “You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it.”
The setting of Scorsese’s next film is 17th century feudal Japan, where Christianity has been outlawed. Religious persecution was the life of a Japanese Christian during this oppressive time, and ultimately his death. They had to practice their faith underground or not at all if they wanted to survive. Curiously, in some ways the entire story can be seen as an allegory for Jews living in fear of their faith in Nazi Germany. There are even hideouts under floorboards. But then again, maybe not.
Two idealistic, young Portuguese Jesuits have been dispatched by their college rector to Japan to minister to the locals. But they have other ideas, namely to investigate what happened to their older mentor and fellow missionary who spent two decades in Japan. The rumour is that he renounced his faith in order to avoid the torture endured by other missionaries and their Japanese converts. The two priests’ undercover mission is to uncover the truth of the supposed apostasy, via a journey a la “Apocalypse Now.” They are dubious, because their teacher was “the crucible” of their belief. They must travel on a Chinese vessel, posing undercover as Dutch Protestants (this is never made clear, so I’m inferring) who are seen as benign foreigners, in order to infiltrate Japan.
As of this writing, the two emissaries are scheduled to be played by Andrew Garfield as Father Rodrigues and Adam Driver as Father Garrpe. Liam Neeson is reportedly on board as their mentor, Father Ferreira. This spiritual odyssey begs the question: why is god silent while his children suffer? But the thesis of Cocks’ screenplay is also that, sometimes, it’s what’s in your heart and your motives that are more important than your actions. I won’t compare it to the novel, as it’s been a while since I read it, and I may have had a pint or two or three at the time.
The tortures the Christians sustained to prove their faith were barbaric to say the least. Tied to wooden stakes, scalding ladles of water from a naturally boiling lake would be dripped over their nude bodies by Japanese government officials. Some were burned alive as flames engulfed them while tied to the stakes. Others were tied to crosses embedded into the shoreline and would slowly drown as the tide came in. Still others were wrapped in straw and thrown overboard a boat as the straw acted like a sponge and pulled them under the current. The unluckiest ones were hung upside down over a pit of shit and slowly bled to death from an incision behind their ears. Then there’s the simple fumie ceremony: an image of Christ was placed on the ground and if you trampled on it nonchalantly, you would have successfully proven that you were not a Christian.
Inoue, the wise Japanese magistrate who interrogates Ferreira with a “Cape Fear” stylistic flourish, would seem to be a fine fit for the rumoured casting of Ken Watanabe. He is described as “terror itself,” responsible for the murder of 35,000 Christians. Paranoia fills the air when he’s around, as anyone can inform Inoue on a secret Christian for pieces of silver. Sound familiar? Watanabe is also a strong possibility for the part known simply as the “Interpreter,” some of which is shot in silhouette. A powerful, authoritative voice would be necessary. Actor Issei Ogata would seem a good candidate for the complicated role of Kichijiro, the Portuguese-speaking guide to the two young Jesuits, described as a pathetic drunkard, a wretched, ragged “heap of humanity” with an important back story. Every Japanese actor in the world would covet this role. To describe it in full would spill the beans… or the rice.
The impatient Garrpe, who shows that he’s capable of violence in one metaphorical scene, is described as having “the lean, restless appearance of a hunting animal.” Driver certainly fits that mold. The proud Rodrigues is characterized as having “spiritual assurance” but “untested righteousness.” Garfield seems like the right fit to me. Neeson will need to go back to his origins and act with his eyes and not his fists.
One major problem with this early draft is that the Ferreira mystery is solved (sort of) in the first scene. It’s akin to Kurtz appearing in act one of “Apocalypse Now.” Many of Cocks’ descriptions, especially those of nature, conjure paintings. And there’s a symbolic bird that seems to pop up at just the right time, and even black crows. This, unfortunately, feels like Oliver Stone territory. However, Cocks’ cinematic descriptions of crucifixes sound beautiful as well as beatific. I also enjoyed some of Cocks’ voiceover. One example has Rodrigues speaking offscreen: “We quickly settled into a routine. Hearing confession, and forgiving sins, even though we could not always be sure what was being confessed.” However, much of the narration sounded like a lazy Sunday sermon. But one clever use of Rodrigues’ narration is that after a horrific plot point, it becomes a whisper for the rest of the film.
For those of you who prefer the profane Scorsese to the sacred, you’ve got your heads up your arses. You wankers who would rather he shoot “The Irishman” because you think it’s another Goodfellas just don’t understand Scorsese’s roots, nor his points of view on life and cinema. He sees the sacred in the profane and the profane in the sacred. There’s spirituality in his crime films and violence in his spiritual films. I believe Scorsese said that there were only two available paths for him while he was growing up in Little Italy: gangster or priest. He initially chose priest.
Soul-searching is not just a figure of speech in Jay Cocks’ version of “Silence.” It’s the story. If, God forbid, this was Martin Scorsese’s swan song as a filmmaker, the final shot, especially the final image, would be a powerful and fitting tribute to the man and his life.
3 cups of Earl Grey out of 4