The Church of Scorsese

By  · Published on January 4th, 2017

Where sinners and saviors sit side-by-side.

In Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets there’s a line spoken by the director himself that perhaps best sums up the most prevalent theme across the majority of his filmography:

“You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home.”

The kind of criminal characters Scorsese likes to work with – men like Mean Streets’ Charlie, Goodfellas’ Henry, or Cape Fear’s Max Cady – walk a tightrope of their own stringing between sin and salvation, they are deeply-religious men with deeply-flawed lifestyles who still worship a higher power while blatantly disobeying said power’s most meaningful tenets: thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill. These are characters conflicted right down to their souls, and it is this conflict in part that makes their stories worth telling.

On the other hand, the other types of characters Scorsese deals with, like Silence’s Jesuit priests, Kundun’s Dalai Lama, or The Last Temptation of Christ’s titular martyr, are men of overwhelming, mythical religious conviction, men who have given their lives to salvation but still find themselves tempted and even tripped up by sin on their respective journeys to their spiritual endpoints. Like Scorsese’s criminals, his saviors’ mere state of being – holy lives lived in an unholy world – is a dichotomy compelling enough to make immortal on film.

In the following video from Filmscalpel for Fandor, the religious images and implications from Scorsese’s filmography have been collected into a kind of catechism: “Where does your faith intersect with your life?” the director seems to be asking his characters; it’s the answers that makes his films among the most captivating and greatest ever made.

Step up to the altar and receive your blessing.

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