Watch: When Martin Scorsese Plays God

A video essay examines the divine presence in Martin Scorsese's movies. 

Martin Scorsese has grappled with theology for decades. His recently released Silence30 years in the making, can be seen as a cinematic manifestation of the director's struggle with spiritual identity; the film deals with religious doubt, raising questions about the nature of faith. “The weight of your silence is terrible,” Rodrigues, the main character, whispers to God, a line that encapsulates the entire film—and Scorsese's central dilemma.

Scorsese was raised Catholic; as a young man, he hoped to become a minister. When he turned to movies, he suffered guilt over potential apostasy. But he continued to evoke Catholicism in his filmography: while Silence and 1988's The Last Temptation of Christ explicitly address religion, nearly all of Scorsese's films make references to—or are direct allegories for—Biblical stories and archetypes. Raging Bull, for example, can be read as the story of Saul's Road to Redemption, ending with a quote straight from the Bible: “All I know is this: once I was blind and now I can see.” Similarly, Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle undergoes a saintly vigilante mission to exorcise his inner demons and punish the sinners of New York.

But is God watching in all of Scorsese's films in a manner more obvious than we realize? A stunning new video essay by Jorge Luengo Ruiz begs the question. By highlighting Scorsese's frequent use of overhead and sweeping bird's-eye view shots, Ruiz asks us to consider whether Scorsese's choice of camera placement invokes an omniscient presence.

Does the suggestion of an all-seeing deity in Scorsese's films alter your interpretation of them?     

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I think there's something to this God's eye view idea:

-- The camera is literally God's perspective, sitting in the sky looking down.
-- God is supposed to be omniscient, and from above, you do have more knowledge. You have the potential to see more context if it's a wide shot (whereas from the ground objects overlap objects and obscure your view).
-- You're potentially more distanced from humanity and emotions when viewing from above. Traditionally, cinematographers spend time worrying about how to make things look more 3D. In contrast, viewing from above seems often to flatten the world into 2D. A person or a tree might become a circle. What is more obvious from above is geometry.
-- If the geometry is harmonious, symmetrical, orderly, that's also kind of a God's perspective -- to see order in the world where a human on the ground might only see chaos. Whenever there is coincidence of aesthetic ideals and significant human moment, I think there's the suggestion of order in the world, and therefore a divine intelligence behind it all.

Of course, overhead is also simply an unusual, potentially quirky, and at any rate eye-catching angle. And I'm sure Scorsese often goes the other direction and tries to put you in the action rather than distance you from it. (In Taxi Driver he didn't want to use tele lenses, on the basis that they were too "aristocratic". Something like that.)

January 11, 2017 at 5:58PM, Edited January 11, 5:59PM

Adrian Tan

Nice major spoiler in the heading image. I swear, the editors are asleep at the wheel.

January 11, 2017 at 8:13PM

Jacob Floyd
Writer / Videographer

Spoiler to an almost 7 year old movie? C'mon, man.

January 13, 2017 at 4:53AM

John Morse
Producer + Director

This is not a video essay. Why do you keep posting these videos saying they're video essays??

January 12, 2017 at 3:10PM, Edited January 12, 3:10PM