Saturday, January 28, 2017
SILENCE (Martin Scorsese, 2016)
In SILENCE Japanese authorities are persecuting priests and their Christian converts. Particularly distressing to those outside the country is the disappearance of Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has not been heard from in years and is rumored to have apostatized. Jesuit priests Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) are convinced that their mentor would have never denied his faith in public and set out on a mission in 1639 to find their missing colleague.
Their guide into the hostile land is Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka). Although his manner causes them to question his honesty, he is their only option for sneaking into Japan, which has banned Christianity. Kichijiro brings them to a community of secret Christians that they minister to as possible until the villagers fall under suspicion of the inquisitor Inoue (Issei Ogata). Rodrigues and Garupe go their separate ways to protect the people and to continue their search for Ferreira.
SILENCE has been a longtime passion project for director Martin Scorsese, who co-wrote the adaptation of the Shûsaku Endô novel with Jay Cocks. It is sort of the inverse of the filmmaker’s THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, which sought to understand Jesus as a human. In SILENCE Scorsese tackles the impossible struggle of a person to live according to the model of the divine. The trials and tribulations Rodrigues experiences are at first an affirmation of what he believes and bring him closer to God. He is following the example set for him and takes glory in being able to live and prove his beliefs in such an immediate way. The more he strives to be an imitation of Christ, especially as the challenges increase, the more he realizes that he is incapable of enduring such burdens.
Scorsese doesn’t shy away from depicting the horrible executions and torture of avowed believers, but for Rodrigues and the other priests the Japanese are abusing, the mental and spiritual suffering is as bad, if not worse. If God’s love is real, why would he allow such awful things to be heaped on those who worship him? Rodrigues is also faced with the question of whether it would be so unforgivable to make a public demonstration of rejecting Christianity by trampling a fumie if it means avoiding death or severe punishment. Is placing one’s foot upon a carving of Jesus or the Virgin Mary while under extreme duress something God cannot pardon, especially if humans were created as fallible? Rodrigues decides that it is OK for the Japanese Christians to deny their faith if it means saving themselves, yet his refusal to do the same means that miseries will be visited upon all of the people he sees himself as serving. Is he not exhibiting the sin of pride by not apostatizing and thus perpetuating the persecution?
Scorsese uses the sound of crickets and its absence to suggest something all around us whether it can be seen or not. The silence does not necessarily indicate something is not present, but it also doesn’t mean that it is there. For those who apostatize, they have acted in a way that says one thing, yet it is not possible to know what exists in their hearts. SILENCE studies religious commitment as a personal matter, one between a believer and the deity, regardless of the declarations in the square or the temple. Certainly such demonstrations cannot be discounted, but are they the only things that matter? Scorsese has made a monumental work of faith that defies easy answers to theological questions yet cuts to the quick of what it means to believe.