Martin Scorsese has spent much of his career turning gangsters, madmen, and tough guys into icons of the silver screen. But his next project, an adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s Silence, presents a new challenge, requiring him to shift his focus from the lions to their prey. And thanks to today's news, we now know that Scorsese’s search for the ultimate sacrificial lamb -- an actor capable of playing the film’s morally besieged Jesuit priest whose faith is tested in an anti-Christian ethnic cleansing campaign in Japan -- has ended with Andrew Garfield.
Garfield is now best known as the latest actor to sport Spidey's spandex. But he'd previously found his comfort zone playing the human equivalent of a Smiths song come to life -- the kind of gloomy introverts who raised suffering to an art form. It's not a bad strategy, considering that many of the best characters in literature have excelled at sorrow sans self-pity: Hester Prynne, Anna Karenina, Jean Valjean, Hamlet and nearly every Thomas Hardy hero. And while the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn, Joaquin Phoenix, and, of course, Woody Allen have been drawn to playing tortured souls, Garfield takes his torment to a different level, imbuing his characters with an underdog’s sense of impending doom. For the most part, Garfield hasn’t allowed his genetic advantages (the doe-eyed good looks of a boy band crooner) to undercut his default mode as an outsider too sensitive for this world.
Even though he fits the introspective profile to play a role that’s essentially a Christlike figure, this project will require both Garfield and Scorsese to venture into unfamiliar terrain. Endo’s highly acclaimed novel places Garfield’s Portuguese priest at the heart of a dramatic narrative that explores the relationship between religious devotion, self-sacrifice, and unending pain – in other words, the human condition. Scorsese, on the other hand, will be tasked with weaving the novel’s moral ambiguity into a story about religious persecution in seventeenth-century Japan. Let’s hope “Silence” resonates louder than “Kundun,” the last film he made a film about a spiritual quest set in the Far East.