Silence: a 26-year-journey from page to screen for writer-director Martin Scorsese

”At this time in my life I continually think about — wonder about — faith and doubt, weakness, and the human condition, and these are the very themes that Endo’s book touches upon in a such a direct way.”

The screen adaptation of Martin Scorsese’s Silence, the Academy Award winning director’s long anticipated film about faith and religion, began in the late 1980’s with his writing collaborator Jay Cocks, and filming began in January 31, 2015 in Taipei, Taiwan at the city’s CMPC film studio.


It  tells the story of two 17th century Portuguese missionaries who undertake a perilous journey to Japan to search for their missing mentor, Father Christavao Ferreira, and to spread the gospel of Christianity, and is based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 award-winning novel, examining the spiritual and religious question of God’s silence in the face of human suffering.

Silence-00450The film follows the young missionaries, Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) as they search for their missing teacher and mentor and minister to the Christian villagers they encounter who are forced to worship in secret. At that time in Japan, feudal lords and ruling Samurai were determined to eradicate Christianity in their midst; Christians were persecuted and tortured, forced to apostatize, that is, renounce their faith or face a prolonged and agonizing death.

The Journey Begins

Martin Scorsese was born in 1942 in New York City, and was raised in the downtown neighborhood of Little Italy, which later provided the inspiration for several of his films.  Scorsese earned a BS degree in film communications in 1964, followed by an MA in the same field in 1966 at New York University’s School of Film. During this time, he made numerous prize-winning short films, including The Big Shave.

He is one of the most prominent and influential filmmakers working today. He has directed critically acclaimed, award-winning films including Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Gangs of New YorkThe AviatorThe Departed which garnered an Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture, Shutter Island, and Hugo for which he won the Golden Globe for Best Director. He was recognized for his latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street by receiving DGA, BAFTA and Academy Award nominations for Best Director, as well as a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination for Best Film.

Scorsese is the founder and chair of The Film Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of motion picture history. At the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Scorsese launched the World Cinema Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of neglected films from the around the world, with special attention paid to those developing countries lacking the financial and technical resources to do the work themselves. Scorsese is the founder and chair.

In 1988, at a special screening in New York for the city’s religious leaders of his latest film The Last Temptation of Christ, Martin Scorsese made the acquaintance of Archbishop Paul Moore. At the event Moore, who was nearing the end of his tenure as the Episcopal Bishop of New York, presented the director with a copy of Shusaku Endo’s historical novel Silence. Silence had been published in Japan in 1966 where it was highly praised, the subject at the time of the most intense, thorough and rigorous analysis. When an English edition of the book appeared some years later, the novel’s reputation as a profound examination of, and meditation upon, religious themes was further enhanced.

The first time he read the book, Silence made a huge impression on Martin Scorsese – it seemed to speak to him personally.

“The subject matter presented by Endo in his book has been in my life since I was very, very young, “Scorsese says. “I was raised in a strong Catholic family and was very much involved in religion. The bedrock I still have is the spirituality of Roman Catholicism I was immersed in as a child, spirituality that had to do with faith.”

Scorsese says that while reading the book he was astonished to discover it confronted the very deep and profound issues about Christianity that, as he puts it, “I still cope with constantly.

“At this time in my life I continually think about — wonder about — faith and doubt, weakness, and the human condition, and these are the very themes that Endo’s book touches upon in a such a direct way.”

The Novel

From the first time he read Silence, Scorsese was determined to make a movie of the book. Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence (Chinmoku), set in Japan in the era of Kakase Kirishitan (the ‘hidden Christians”), has been hailed as a supreme literary achievement and described by critics as one of the twentieth century’s finest novels.  Published in 1966, Silence received Japan’s prestigious Tanazaki Prize. It was translated into English in 1969, and since appeared in various languages throughout the world.


Shusaku Endo

Silence became an instant bestseller in Japan, having sold over 800,000 copies. It takes as its starting off point an historical Church scandal that had wide reverberations– the defection in Japan of a Jesuit Superior, Father Christovao Ferreira, who renounced his religion, became a Buddhist scholar and took a Japanese wife.

Jesuits, members of the Society of Jesus, today form the largest religious order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church. Historically engaged in evangelization and apostolic ministry, Jesuits are committed to doing good works in education (founding schools and universities), intellectual research, cultural pursuits, human rights and social justice. Ignatius Loyola founded the order in the 1530s and composed the Spiritual Exercises to help others follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.  In 1534, Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier and their followers took vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to the Pope.

In Endo’s novel, two of Father Chistavao Ferreira’s students, Father Sebastian Rodrigues and Father Francsico Garupe, travel from Portugal to the Jesuit University in Macao and then Japan where they place themselves in great danger searching for the truth about Ferreira’s mysterious defection as they minister to the faithful in Japan, the hidden Christians who worship and practice their faith in fear for their lives.

Endo, one of the few Japanese authors to write from a Christian point of view, was born in Tokyo in 1923. He was raised in Kobe by his mother and an aunt, and baptized into the Church at age 11. His university studies were interrupted by the Second World War, and he worked for a time in a munitions factory. After the war, he studied medicine and moved to France. Throughout his life, Endo struggled with severe respiratory ailments, including tuberculosis, and endured long periods of hospitalization.

Endo began writing novels in 1958, almost all concerned with Christian themes, including A Life of Jesus, inviting comparison between him and Christian writers in the west, notably Graham Greene. Most of Endo’s characters struggle with complex, moral dilemmas, and their choices often lead to mixed or tragic results. Graham Greene called Endo “one of the finest writers alive.”

Silence is considered Endo’s masterpiece and has been the subject of intense analysis and debate in the years since publication. Garry Wills, the Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian, compares Silence to Greene’s The Power and The Glory. He writes that whereas Graham’s hero “maintains a priestly ministry despite his own unworthiness…Endo explores a more interesting paradox. His priest defects, not from weakness but from love, to spare Christian converts the persecution mounted against them.”

Endo himself believed the book’s great appeal in his own country among Japanese leftist students was that they saw in the story of Rodrigues’s struggles with the Samurai the more recent struggles of the Japanese Marxists of the 1930s who were tortured by Japanese authorities and forced to commit ‘tenko’ – an ideological ‘about face’ or conversion.

Silence has recently been called a novel of our time. Paul Elie writing in the New York Times Sunday magazine says, “It locates in the missionary past so many of the religious matters that vex us in the post-secular moment – the claims to universal truths in diverse societies, the conflict between a profession of faith and the expression of it, and the seeming silence of God while believers are draw into violence on his behalf.”

The relevance of Silence continues to reverberate.

The Screenplay


Scorsese’s great regard for Silence increased with further readings. As he had already begun working on a screen adaptation with his writing collaborator Jay Cocks in the late 1980s, he planned it as his next film project.

Fate, however, had a different scenario in store.

To begin with Scorsese says, “I wasn’t happy with the draft we came up with.” He also encountered other problems, he says, not the least of which was finding the funding for such an undertaking, and so he put the screenplay aside.

In the ensuing years, however, the director spent a great deal of time pondering the book’s themes and characters, continuing to work off on and off with Cocks on subsequent drafts of their screenplay. Overall it took more than fifteen years for the duo to complete what they both felt was a successful and workable script, one that incorporated and gave expression and life to the novel’s deepest and most profound meanings.

A forward Scorsese penned for a 2007 English edition of the novel gives insight into not only what these themes mean for the director but also a sense of what Scorsese’s film of the book would express.

Scorsese wrote, “Christianity is based on faith but if you study its history you see that it’s had to adapt itself over and over again, always with great difficulty, in order that faith might flourish. That’s a paradox, and it can be an extremely painful one: on the face of it believing and questioning are antithetical. Yet I believe they go hand in hand. One nourishes the other. Questioning may lead to great loneliness but if it co-exists with faith – true faith, abiding faith – it can end in the most joyful sense of communion. It’s this painful paradoxical passage – from certainty to doubt to loneliness to communion that Endo understands so well.

“Sebastian Rodrigues (the central character) represents what you might call ‘the best and the brightest of the Catholic faith.”

Scorsese labels him a ‘man of the church’ as described in Bernanos’s Diary of a Country Priest and writes that “Rodrigues would most certainly have been one of those men, stalwart, unbending in his will and resolve, unshakeable in his faith—if he had stayed in Portugal, that is.

“Instead he is placed in the middle of another, hostile culture during a late stage in a protracted effort to rid itself of Christianity. Rodrigues believes with all his heart he will be the hero of a Western story that we all know very well: the Christian allegory, a Christ figure, with his own Gesthemane –a patch of wood– and his own Judas, a miserable wretch named Kichijiro.”

Indeed Judas, who Scorsese calls Christianity’s greatest villain, embodies what the filmmaker refers to one of the most pressing dilemmas in all Christian theology.

“What is Judas’s role?” he writes. “What is expected of him by Christ? What is expected of him by us today?”…. Endo looks at the problem of Judas more directly than any other artist I know.”

This problem infuses Silence, and determines Father Rodrigues’ fate.

As Scorsese writes, “…. slowly, masterfully, Endo reverses the tide [for Rodriques].  Silence is the story of a man who learns –so painfully—that God’s love is more mysterious than he knows, that He leaves much more to the ways of men that we realize, and that He is always present…even in His silence.

“I picked up this novel for the first time almost twenty years ago. I’ve reread it countless times since… It has given me a kind of sustenance that I have found in only a very few works of art.”



With a screenplay finally completed to his satisfaction after so many years, Scorsese, Koskoff, and Winkler stepped up efforts to secure financing for the project. Scorsese and Koskoff also began to grapple with casting and location issues: who would be the perfect actor to play the all-important role of Father Rodrigues? How to find Japanese actors for other crucial roles? And where to make the film? None of these issues would be resolved quickly or easily.


Jay Cocks (Screenwriter) co-wrote with Martin Scorsese the script for the director’s film The Age of Innocence earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. His script for Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, which he co-wrote with the director, was also nominated for the Oscar as well as the BAFTA award for Best Original Screenplay. Cocks has also written the screenplays for Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days and Irwin Winkler’s De-Lovely. Among his other credits are the documentaries A Shot at the Top: The Making of ‘The King of Comedy’ and By Sidney Lumet. Before turning to film writing Cocks was a film critic for Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Time and various other magazines.

Finding financing for a serious, character-driven film dealing with profound religious and philosophical issues in today’s worldwide film market was a daunting challenge.

“This project has so much meaning for Marty, it’s so personal for him that it became personal for me as well,” says Koskoff who is Scorsese’s producing partner and President of Production at his company, Sikelia. “I was determined to get the film made and I wasn’t going to rest until that was achieved. Every possible avenue—I pursued them all.”

After a series of postponements, Scorsese, Koskoff and Winkler finally met with success. With the release of Scorsese’s hugely popular and commercially successful The Wolf of Wall Street, the principal financiers to come on board the film were Fabrica de Cine and Len Blavatnik’s AI Films with assistance from SharpSword Films and IM Global.

Fabrica de Cine, headed by Gaston Pavlovich, co-produced and co-financed the Tom Hanks drama A Hologram for a King and Richard Gere’s Oppenheimer Strategies.

Len Blavatnik’s AI Films has financed or co-financed Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes and Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge.

SharpSword Films is backed by Dale Brown and participated in the financing of The Ticket, starring Dan Stevens, Malin Akerman and Oliver Platt.

IM Global is one of the world’s leading international film and television production, sales and distribution platforms and is currently a co-financing partner on Hacksaw Ridge directed by Mel Gibson and Gary Ross’ Free State of Jones.

Even before the means to make the film became available, in 2008 and 2009, as various ways were being explored to secure financing, Scorsese, Koskoff and key members of the director’s creative team began to scout locations for a proposed production. Understanding that it would be prohibitively expensive to make the film in Japan, the filmmakers scouted New Zealand, Canada and other various locations in search of places to shoot the story on a more economically feasible basis, eventually finding the perfect locations in Taiwan.


Director, Martin Scorsese and Andrew Garfield on the set of the film SILENCE by Paramount Pictures, SharpSword Films, and AI Films by Paramount Pictures, SharpSword Films, and AI Films

Director, Martin Scorsese and Andrew Garfield on the set of the film

With so many essential elements falling in place, the process of casting, which had been temporarily put on hold, moved ahead in earnest. The main priority was clear – filling the role of Father Rodrigues.

“The actor who would play Rodrigues had to have the ability and understanding to deal with the complex issues that inform the character,” Scorsese says. “I understood also that we had to find someone who would want to play the part. Over the years I had seen many actors. Some said right off the bat they had no interest in the subject and that was that.”

Over the years Scorsese had encountered many young actors who were fascinated by the material and the story, and he considered several for the role. As time went by, however, and the film failed to move forward, these actors became too old. Rodrigues is young man in his twenties.

Stepping up the search with a production start date looming, Scorsese auditioned several young actors, when lighting struck in the person of Andrew Garfield. Fresh off his Tony-nominated triumph on Broadway in Mike Nichols’ production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” as well as his stint as The Amazing Spider-Man, Garfield seemed like Rodrigues incarnate to the director.

“The story confronts such deep and difficult material, timeless, huge in scope, huge in emotion,” Garfield says. “It’s a lifetime the character goes through that we witness. He wrestles with the great and most important questions we all wrestle with – how to live a meaningful life, a life of faith, and does that require you to live in doubt as well. That’s just scratching the surface of why I was attracted to this story and this character.”

As Rodrigues’ fellow priest Father Garupe, Scorsese cast another charismatic, up-and coming young actor, Adam Driver. Well-known for his role in the HBO series Girls, and for film appearances such as Inside Llewyn Davis and the latest Star Wars installment The Force Awakens, Driver stars in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. Driver, too, was intrigued and challenged by the story and excited for the chance to work with Scorsese.

To prepare he immersed himself in Endo’s book as well as in Scorsese and Cocks’ script.

“I was really taken by the idea of a crisis of faith which is always universal, and always relevant,” Driver says.

The individual characteristics of the two young men, Father Rodrigues, and Father Garupe, Driver’s character, also appealed to the actor.

“I liked that they were disgruntled guys, and questioning, which is a big part of faith. I thought of St. Peter. Doubt is healthy – it relates to everything, to acting even. Is this the right way to make a living? Is this part right? Do I want to be with these people? Am I just bad in the role? Anything creative leads to doubt. Relationships, between parents and children are filled with doubt.”

Driver was also attracted to what he calls the atypical representation of priests in the story.

“You think of priests as calm and rational. But these Jesuits were pioneers, rough and hard. They had to be durable. Conditions were harsh in that period. These men were rough, not polished, not how we think of priests today. I think of them as explorers.”