Rated R primarily for torture. There's some kinda / sorta nudity in the movie, but nothing that would be considered of a sexual nature. Really, the movie is asking you to sit through some pretty intense brutality while having an intense discussion about the nature of faith. There are things that could be considered blasphemous in the movie. It's odd to think that, in the process of making a movie about condemning the soiling of holy images, the actors themselves probably had to do that. It's a pretty well-deserved R.
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
There are other movies on my list of movies to write about. It's not a long list. I've been pretty good with keeping up with my blog even during my days off. But Silence is the blog I've been mentally writing in the back of my head for days now. Now I'm writing it with only minutes to spare until it is officially Christmas Eve. This might be the oddest choice for a Christmas season movie, but I haven't really watched a ton of stuff that got me excited for Christmas anyway, so mind as well watch a very intense cinematic depiction of faith.
The reason that this movie has been on my mind since I started watching it is that I'm terrified that I'm going to write something absolutely heretical in the attempt to break down some of the interesting elements of faith. I remember when this movie came out, there was a big hullaballoo about the depiction of Catholicism in my Catholic circles. Some people swore that it was phenomenal, a game changer. Some people were really concerned with Martin Scorsese's faith after seeing this movie and thought that the movie shouldn't exist. I know that I wrote for Catholic News Agency for a little bit. But one of the things that always terrified me about that gig was that I was going to display how ignorant I was about the deep dives in Catholicism. I mean, I'm good at the stuff that Matthew Kelly writes about. He's easy to read and his Australian accent is easy on the ears. But if it is an encyclical, I got nothing. Like, I try reading them, but my eyes glaze over and I hope I didn't miss anything important. That's probably something I shouldn't publish online, but it's true. I can't do them. It's tough. I'm probably going to accidentally reveal myself to be some other religion by accident and I'm absolutely terrified.
But isn't that what art is supposed to do? Isn't the point of genuine art to challenge us? I'm not saying that is about making me display my ignorance so I can't show up to a Knights of Columbus pancake breakfast with egg on my face. (After all, they serve pancakes, not eggs.) I'm talking about the idea that I really have to question what is the moral right in this situation. There's a bunch of stuff swirling around in my brain while watching this movie. It was either a few years ago or last year (time means nothing anymore) that a guy got ripped apart for trying to be a missionary on preserved land. It was an awkward one. I don't remember too many people really feeling bad for him, even among the religious community. It's either that or I hang out in a very cynical area of the Internet. The big argument was that the people were clear that they didn't want him there, so they killed him when he got there. It's a bleak story, but I can't help but have that story color my viewing of the movie.
A big element of Catholicism is going and preaching the gospel. It's almost central to our faith. There are faiths out there that really poo-poo the whole evangelization thing. I kind of get that. But not Christianity. Christianity is huge on the idea that we have to spread the Good Word. After all, Christ didn't die on the cross for those who are already believers. He died for everyone. He wants people to know his love. Silence lives in the extreme version of this philosophy. I'm thinking back to all of the missionary movies I watched when I was younger. (The only title I'm thinking about right now is The Mission, but you know what I mean.) Missionaries seemed so intense and focused. They put my head in the space of the saints. "I don't know how they do what they do." Scorsese seems to be on that page. These are men who know that they'll probably be killed for their faiths. But their faith is dwarfed compared to the examples of faith that they witness among the converted in Japan. It's this symbiotic relationship. Seeing the gratitude of these people as the missionaries come there is inspiring. My life is too comfortable. I rarely have that level of gratitude about my faith.
But this is not a story about faith and martyrdom. After all, we have those stories. (Again, all I can see is Robert DeNiro standing upright in a boat. It's eight minutes to midnight and it has been a very long day.) I mean, it is, but it's about the failure to be martyred. It's the idea that these priests are people. They have gone through so much to survive as they did. They were abused and insulted. They witnessed horrors and still maintained their faith. But what Scorsese does pretty effectively (for the most part) is show how faith slowly drains before the deluge. It's not this one moment, but rather a series of moments that have weakened the damn before it breaks. Fr. Rodrigues has these crises of faith, despite having what seems to be an extraordinary resolve. He prays and he prays intensely. But as much as he fights it, there's the creeping feeling in his head that perhaps God isn't there. I find it oddly ironic that he finally hears the voice of God, which causes him to abandon his faith. It is the opposite of Doubting Thomas. Once God presents himself to Fr. Rodrigues, that's when hope and faith is lost.
And I think of the words that Scorsese gives to Jesus's voice. He talks about one who is insulted and injured. He came to Earth to be mocked and scorned. This is where my theology might falter. There's this big push for Rodrigues and the Japanese Christian community to either all entire villages to die or to simply stick a foot on the image of Christ. I hate that I wrote "simply." It's not simply. It is difficult and I understand the difficulty. But the movie presents what must be a dangerous temptation that I already harbor: maybe God gets it. I know we have the story about Peter denying Christ three times before his death. While that's part of Christ's story, the lesson behind it is that this is Peter's lowest moment. I always find it odd that Thomas is considered one of the weaker disciples for asking to touch the wounds, but Peter was prophesized to renounce Christ and he still did it. When Rodrigues eventually succumbs to the threats and tortures that the Japanese push him with, I can't help but think that Christ is forgiving.
But this is where it is lost on me. The two priests go looking for Fr. Ferreira. Ferreira has been completely mind-controlled. He's practically The Manchurian Candidate by the time that Rodrigues encounters him. (Maybe more Homeland, but this is a film blog and it's exactly midnight.) I get that Ferreira isn't himself when he's testifying to the futility of Christianity. Part of me thinks that Ferreira has gone insane, based on the way he looked at the beginning of the film. But Rodrigues is presented with a relatively small exit from his apostilization. Like Picard's temptation to deny that there are four lights (There's a good reference), Rodrigues simply has to say that he was wrong and to go about his way. But when he makes that concession, against his conscience, he goes into being one of the Japanese zealots? I know that he dies with a cross in his hands. It is unclear whether or not he had that himself or his wife put it in his hands, but that scene almost shouldn't matter. Rodrigues becomes this tool for dismantling the Church in Japan and that's can't be right. It's one thing to quietly skulk away. After all, Kichikuro kept doing that over-and-over. But Rodrigues actively outed other Christians. It's the whole McCarthyism thing, only with a forgiving tone.
Poor Kichikuro. I'm rushing this because I have to get up early, but I kept on reminding myself of him. He's both an absolute scumbag and one of the most sympathetic characters in the film. He's this guy that would probably end up being me in the same position. He devoutly, devoutly believes in God. He may not understand the theology, but he knows the value of reconciliation. Yet, he keeps making the same mistake based on his character flaw. He knows that society finds Christianity abhorrent, so he keeps publicly renouncing the Church. But then, he wants to make a grand gesture to find his way back to God through reconciliation and the cycle continues time-and-again. It's just something that I wanted to point out.
This movie might be brilliant. I know I'm probably shoving my foot in my mouth, but it really is an interesting examination of the way that temptation works. If anything, it does a better job at looking at temptation than Scorsese's more famous The Last Temptation of Christ. It looks at imperfect people dealing with a very challenging concept. The Bible talks about the faith the size of a mustard seed, but we see how easily that faith can be disrupted. It's a gorgeous film that is really depressing. Either way, Merry Christmas everyone. It's officially eight minutes into Christmas Eve.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.