*Warning: the following contains spoilers for the movie “Silence”*
Martian scorsese Silence is a difficult film, not only artistically, but also theologically. Everything in the film seems designed to test its viewer; the epic 2 hours and 41 minutes duration, the brutal depictions of Christian persecution, the unanswered questions regarding faith, doubt and apostasy. The sheer scope of Scorsese’s project is what drew much criticism to Silence at first, and this may have contributed to the film’s poor performance after its release. However, with the Christian public, the main concern has always been the Gospel message. Regardless of what critics and moviegoers had to say, did the film at least stay true to the teachings of the scriptures?
Esther O’Reilly of The Stream would answer “No”. In a recent column, O’Reilly mentioned how Silence was initially one of his most anticipated films of the year. However, after learning of the conclusion of Shusaku Endo’s international novel, his enthusiasm weakened. Despite the sharp appearance of the film, O’Reilly felt Silence did not represent Christian values, but eventually sank into blasphemy. She writes,
“The central point of the story is a terrible dilemma imposed on its protagonist, Father Rodrigues (Garfield). Knowing full well that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, the Japanese authorities decided to break the Church from top to bottom, inciting its priests to apostatize. Like Father Ferreira, the mentor he came for, Rodrigues is forced to choose between trampling on a graven image of Christ and watching his beloved converts die a slow and tortured death. “They do not die for Christ”, laughs the inquisitor. “They die for you. “
“His companion, Fr. Garrpe (Driver), is offered the same choice separately but stays strong until the end, providing one of the most memorable scenes in the book and film. But ultimately this is Rodrigues’ story, and it comes to a head when he makes his decision: Trample. It also marks the moment when God’s oppressive “silence” is dramatically broken. Sadly, he’s broken in the worst possible way, as the Christ of Fumie – the Image – urges Rodrigues to trample him down.
There is no happy resolution after this action. Rodrigues spent the rest of his life as a pawn of the Japanese authorities who used him to unearth Christian imagery. The disavowal of his faith is put in writing, he takes a Japanese wife, and on his death, is buried in a Buddhist ceremony. It is only in the very last shot that a crucifix is shown cut away in Rodrigues’ hands, implying that he still secretly holds on to his faith. For O’Reilly, that last word wasn’t enough to undo the damage already done.
“In short, Silence apologize and claim to do evil so that good may come. He puts words in Christ’s mouth that go against his explicit teachings. It is not simply “ambiguous”. It is blasphemous.
While O’Reilly’s observations certainly have merit, I have to disagree with her. Silence is not a story of blasphemy, but rather a story of faith in its crudest form. Christians have long been in love with the idea of ”glorious martyrdom”, but Silence quickly disillusion his viewers with such notions. Like Rodrigues, or maybe Peter if you need a Biblical example, many Christians believe they are ready to suffer and die for Christ. However, when the time came, the two men apostatized.
Stripped of their pride and dignity, both believed themselves beyond God’s reach, only to find that God was still there. He hadn’t only foreseen their betrayals, he had died to forgive them. How many of us would have the courage to rebuild a broken faith? How many of us would have the strength to endure it? This is the great and terrible message that haunts every moment of Silence.
Other Christians will certainly have their own thoughts on the Scorsese film, and that’s fine. Silence is a complicated movie, and complicated movies hate easy answers. Yet believers should hesitate before calling this blasphemy. Instead, we should take a moment to consider the question Jesus asked his own disciples. A question not all of them understood,
“Can you drink the cup I’m drinking?“
* Published on 03/03/2017