After spending nearly 30 years shepherding his adaptation of Shusaku Endo's "Silence" to the screen, Martin Scorsese may be starting to feel as forsaken as the book's Jesuit protagonist, abandoned by an uncommunicative and apparently uncaring God. The movie has been roundly ignored by Hollywood awards voters and it flopped at cinemas in the U.S., where viewers were apparently reluctant to sign up for a 161-minute theological discourse conducted partly in Japanese.

Scorsese has been wrestling with the demands of religious faith ever since his 1967 debut, "Who's That Knocking at My Door," in which Harvey Keitel played a young New Yorker burdened by Catholic guilt. It's easy to imagine what must have attracted the director to Endo's novel, a conflicted, richly nuanced work of historical fiction that considers the ability of faith to endure under seemingly impossible circumstances.

Set in mid-17th-century Japan, it focuses on the persecution of religious communities in the wake of the Tokugawa Shogunate's ban on Christianity, as seen through the eyes of a Jesuit priest.