Si­lence: ‘I didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate the wait, but I’m glad at the re­sults,’ screen­writer says

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - GLOBE ARTS -

Even back then? Yeah, that’s right. This would have been 1992. I said, I can’t stop, I gotta do this for Marty. What I didn’t say was, I was re­ally lost. I was lost in, as the book says, the swamp of Ja­pan. I was lost the­mat­i­cally, I was lost lin­guis­ti­cally, I was lost spir­i­tu­ally, I was just a blind man in a snow­storm. It was the scari­est writ­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of my life.

But you gave Scorsese a draft and he liked it. What he par­tic­u­larly liked was some­thing I did with the end­ing that is not in the book. So, hav­ing done this, and felt rather good about the end­ing my­self, I had to say, well, I guess on some level I did un­der­stand this ma­te­rial. Now I have to go back and fig­ure out what it is I un­der­stood about it.

So, the two of you then worked on a se­ries of drafts, as le­gal and money prob­lems came and went. How do you main­tain in­ter­est in a project that takes this long to come to fruition? I have a one-word an­swer for that: Marty. Be­cause his faith never dimmed, his en­thu­si­asm never slack­ened, it only deep­ened, along with his in­sights into this ma­te­rial. Sev­eral peo­ple have asked him, what would have hap­pened if you’d made this when you guys first wrote it, in the early nineties? And he says, I don’t know, it would be a com­bi­na­tion of Good­fel­las and The Age of In­no­cence, if you can imag­ine such a com­bi­na­tion. But al­though it was very frus­trat­ing and very en­er­vat­ing to wait this long, I think the fact that he made this at full ma­tu­rity, as an artist, was in­valu­able to the movie. So – I didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate the wait, but I’m glad at the re­sults. The film is a cel­e­bra­tion of faith, but am­biva­lent about the im­per­a­tive of spread­ing re­li­gion into for­eign lands. And it comes at an in­ter­est­ing cul­tural mo­ment, when we’re newly wary of re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism. But you and Scorsese had your own bat­tles with fun­da­men­tal­ism in the late eight­ies. I be­lieve that the hul­la­baloo over Last Temp­ta­tion may have been the first stir­rings of the strength of the Chris­tian right. I think the re­sis­tance to that movie from the right wing, and the way that re­sis­tance was met – in many cases with just kind of knuck­ling un­der – gave the Chris­tian right a sense of its po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural power that maybe they didn’t have be­fore. And af­ter rallying around that, they went rallying around politi- cal can­di­dates and pres­i­dents and flexed a lot of mus­cle.

Given that, are you at all con­flicted about cel­e­brat­ing faith? No! The Chris­tian right is a dis­tor­tion of faith. It’s a dis­tor­tion of the Gospel of Christ. It has noth­ing to do with why Christ has been such a sem­i­nal cul­tural fig­ure for cen­turies, it has noth­ing to do with love, tol­er­ance, un­der­stand­ing. It has to do with re­ac­tion­ism. It has to do with big­otry, and that’s not Chris­tian­ity.

Si­lence is called ‘A Martin Scorsese film.’ But you were the one toil­ing at the writ­ing ta­ble for all of those hours. How does that feel? I feel proud! The anal­ogy I use some­times is, on my best days, I’m Nel­son Rid­dle and he’s Frank Si­na­tra. I just ar­range the song for him and he just goes and de­liv­ers it like no­body else. To have my name on a Martin Scorsese movie? I couldn’t be hap­pier, prouder or more ful­filled. And so, if you’re a writer, and you think – okay, I’m go­ing to put my brand on this too – you’re mak­ing a mis­take. Be­cause you’re not there for the trench war­fare that goes on dur­ing shoot­ing. You’re there dur­ing the sunny days just be­fore the war.

This in­ter­view has been edited and con­densed.

Liam Nee­son is seen in Martin Scorsese’s Si­lence, a film Jay Cocks spent al­most 30 years writ­ing. It was ‘the scari­est writ­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of my life,’ Cocks says.

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