I finally watched Martin Scoreses’ movie Silence. I have not read the book that it is based on written by Shausaku Endo, so this is simply a reflection on the movie itself. I could not find a way to talk about this movie without giving away the ending, so – Spoiler Alert!
It was beautifully shot, and the soundtrack so well done that it feels like there was not any music forcing the viewer completely on the actions of the characters. That said, it was an uncomfortable movie to watch, which in of itself is not a bad thing. Well done uncomfortable movies make us think and reflect. I personally watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ every Good Friday and that is very uncomfortable to watch.
Basic plot of Silence in the mid 17th century two Portuguese Jesuit priests, Fr. Garupe and Fr. Rodrigues played by Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield respectfully, receive the disturbing news that their mentor, Fr. Ferreira (based on the historical Cristóvão Ferreira) played by Liam Neelson, while preaching in Japan has committed apostasy. We learn in the movie later that he has done it in all three forms. For those who do not know apostasy is the abandonment or renunciation of one’s faith and Pope Benedict XIV distinguishes three types: apostasy a Fide, when a Christian gives up his faith, apostasy ab ordine, when a cleric abandons the ecclesiastical state, and apostasy a religione, when a religious leaves the religious life. To find out the truth the two young priest set out for Japan with their superior telling them that they will be the last priests sent to that country.
In the course of the movie the presence of the priests are discovered and they are subjugated to intense psychological torture, mainly watching others (Christians, or others who renounced the faith) being physically tortured and killed. This is inferred with Fr. Garupe since the movie focuses on the sufferings of Fr. Rodrigues after they go their separate ways. While Fr. Rodrigues is forced to watch this suffering he is repeatedly told that the people’s pain is his fault and he can ended it if he apostatizes. Fr. Garupe ends up dead in a futile attempt to save someone from being drowned in a heart wrenching scene. Rodrigues survives and is eventually reunited with Fr. Ferreira.
Seeing that there was truth in the rumors that his mentor had renounced the faith is one of the last things that pushes Fr. Rodrigues to the breaking point. He steps on an image of Christ, an act called fumi-e, at the encouragement of Fr. Ferreira to stop the torture of five former Christians.
In the end Fr. Rodrigues is not a hero for apostatizing. He and Fr. Ferreira are beaten men put on display show the might of the Japanese way of life pushing out external or Western influence. Both men are forced to live as a Japanese man taking on a wife and family, then spend the rest of their days as lackeys to the government.
The question was asked of Fr. Rodrigues ‘What would Jesus want?’ in regards to the suffering of the people. I don’t think Jesus would want us to crawl back into the Upper Room hiding from the authorities, and keeping the faith quiet and hidden. One thing that I noticed (I don’t know if this was intentional or not) when we saw the fallen priest after they apostatized their expressions are filled with sadness and pain. I wonder if they had self-reproach for their actions and the consequences that followed.
I found myself in intense contemplation to the point a few people asked if I was alright. The result of this deep contemplation – I do not know if I would be strong enough for the red crown of martyrdom. What I do know is that I do not have the temporal strength to renounce the faith. The only reason I am a halfway decent human being is the fact I am Catholic. As Evelyn Waugh once stated, “You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being.”
Life is full of trials, pains, and sufferings – it is uncomfortable. To quote the Dread Pirate Roberts “Life is pain […] Anyone who says differently is selling something.” But the pain and suffering in this life are temporary in the overall scheme of things. Yes, Fr. Rodrigues act of apostasy ended the physical pain, but we have to stop and consider what his actions have done to the state of the souls that were in his care. While Scoreses adds in the last scene where we see Fr. Rodrigues’ remains in a coffin holding on to a crudely craved crucifix hinting that the man have held on secretly to the faith the damage was done. Apostasy under torture is a hard thing to defend, condemn, or justify. A few hints are dropped through out the movie that maybe Fr. Rodrigues has loss some sense of reality through the hardships he has undergone. He grows increasingly frustrated that God is ‘silent’ towards him (hence the title) and little by little he falls into despair. In that mind set it difficult to judge someone’s actions. But that does not necessarily mean his actions are forgiven.
I left the movie theatre uncertain of how I should feel towards Fr. Rodrigues’ actions. Knowing the setting of the film I honestly thought that I would be bawling my eyes out (I always cry at a good martyrdom scene), but as the story progressed my eyes were still dry. I felt almost numb and even turned off my music in the car on the way home because I could not handle noise at that point.
Am I glad I saw this movie? Yes, actually.
(Word of caution: I cannot recommend this movie for those who are wishy-washy in their faith just because this movie is so unconformable. It’s right up there with The Mission in terms of the intensity of the story.)
- Bishop Barron has a very good review of the movie that I recommend reading.
- The Case of Christovão Ferreira to read more about the historical Fr. Cristóvão Ferreira.
The book was so intense for me that I think I am going to wait to see this film at home.
I read about the Japanese Martyrs some years ago. Didn’t all the Christian missionaries in Japan accept death, alongside so very many of their fellow native believers? I seem tor emember that was what I read.