Much has been written about Martin Scorsese’s films and hopefully we can expect more of both. Theologians and religious studies professors often drool over the theological over/undertones in his work. His early struggle of whether or not to enter the priesthood should add complexity to his work and our viewing of it. In The Word Made Flesh: Catholicism and Conflict in the Films of Martin Scorsese, Michael Bliss discusses Scorsese’s films from Who’s That Knocking at My Door to The Age of Innocence. While the book begins with much promise as a dialogue between theology and Scorsese’s films, it quickly fades into mere film criticism only slightly tinged with religious flavor.
Bliss begins by giving us a definition of the book’s title, what he sees to be an overarching theme in Scorsese’s films. For Bliss, most of Scorsese’s characters engage in a war between the spirit and the flesh, mirroring Paul’s frustrations in Romans 7. Unfortunately, this is a tenuous reading for some of Scorsese’s films so Bliss stretches it to include a struggle between living one’s life amid social, familial, or governmental restrictions. Bliss, then, is able to view the ever-present violence in Scorsese’s films as the characters’ attempts to reconcile the spirit and the flesh or their place in a confining environment.
Bliss’ attention to Scorsese’s earlier films is much appreciated as most religious or theological engagement with Scorsese’s films limit themselves to Raging Bull or The Last Temptation of Christ. Unfortunately, Bliss only devotes four pages to the latter. In the case of this chapter and many others, Bliss could have omitted his discussions of New York, New York, The Last Waltz, and The Age of Innocence, all of which he basically pans and lengthened his discussions of what he sees to be better examples of Scorsese’s cinematic talents.