Patrick Frater‘s 2.1.09 Variety story didn’t say Martin Scorsese is 100% locked into shooting an adaptation of Shusaku Endo‘s Silence — it said Scorsese is “determined” to make it his next film. It also said he and Graham King‘s GK Films are negotiating with Daniel Day-Lewis, Benicio Del Toro and Gael Garcia Bernal to star, and that the grim 17th Century drama is expected to begin shooting later this year in New Zealand.

(l. to r.) Martin Scorsese, Daniel Day-Lewis, Benicio del Toro

Obviously this has the earmarks of a high-pedigree historical drama, but before getting too excited consider a synopsis on the Endo/Silence Amazon page, to wit: “The plot centers around a band of Portugese priests who land in Japan in the 1600s to spread the gospel on a culturally and spiritually unfertile soil. Their theology is eventually challenged in ways that only persecution and suffering can do. Can I carry on here? Should I? Can I forgive my tormentors? Should I?

“Ultimately, they wrestle with public apostasy” — i.e., a renunciation of faith — “and whether or not they could ever be forgiven if they commit such an act. This is not a feel-good book by any stretch. It deals with failure, defeat, abandonment, pain, and the silence of God through it all.”

In other words, it’s going to be a grim slide, Catholic guilt suffer-fest in Jesuit robes.

Remember the tragic-downer tone of Scorsese’s previous two collaborations with Day-Lewis — The Age of Innocence and Gangs of New York. Keep in mind the catatonic stupor that enveloped viewers of Kundun, Scorsese’s last exploration of spirituality in an exotic culture. If it gets made, Silence will almost certainly be showered with admiration and respect from critics, and lose money hand over fist in commercial theatres. I for one can’t wait to suffer through this as I relish the performances, which you just know are going to be kick-ass. Not to mention the photography, sets, costumes, etc.

I was scorned last year for saying Scorsese should restrict himself to goombah gangster films. I didn’t exactly mean that. I understand that Scorsese has to do movies like Silence, Kundun and The Age of Innocence in order to expand his range and fortify his artist-auteur cred, and I respect that process. But in the old days the thick-fingered, cigar-chomping studio moguls would have told him to forget the Jesuits and get back to the loan sharks, drug dealers, wayward women, crooked politicians and hitmen. Because that’s what sells the friggin’ popcorn.

Only the flakiest would-be distributor would ignore the Great Depression 2.0 factor. With everyone terrified of losing their jobs and being unable to house and feed their families, who’s going to pay to see this thing besides dweeb cineastes who read Scott Foundas? I’m just asking.