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Overstreet

Silence (2016)

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On second viewing, it still sounds like Hinds to me.

I took my priest to the second screening I attended. He lived in Japan for a year in his early 20s, before he became Orthodox (and he read Endo's book while he was there). He crossed himself when the dedication to the Japanese martyrs appeared onscreen at the end of the film.

I wish I knew where to begin talking about this movie, but I find the whole thing quite overwhelming, and not just because I have never read the book or studied the author's life. After my second viewing, I noticed that the part of my brain that sometimes gets lured into flamewars *really* wanted to point out all the contradictions in the persecutors' statements: stepping on the image of Christ is no big deal, but they keep making a big deal of it; Christianity never had a chance to take off in Japan, but it's dangerous; Buddhism and Christianity have so much to share, but the persecutors are trying to stamp out Christianity rather than share the country with it; and so on. I like to think that I would have kept all these contradictions in the foreground of my mind if I had been in Rodriguez's situation, but it's easy to see how the brainwashing would set in if I were subjected to it day in and day out.

I even found myself thinking that the persecutors' scenario was in some ways reminiscent of the atonement theology that I came to reject a couple of decades ago: the persecutors force the priests into a situation where they have to sacrifice their very souls in order to prove their love for others (i.e. they have to trample an image of Christ in order to prevent other Christians from being bled to death), but the persecutors never had any warrant to threaten people with death and torture in the first place -- just as Christ, in some versions of the atonement, has to let himself be tortured and executed or else God will never let people out of Hell, but there was no reason God had to threaten everyone with eternal punishment in the first place.

The questions of cultural transformation fascinate me. For decades, theologians like N.T. Wright have been talking about "stories" and how we need to understand Jesus within the story of his times, and the story that grew out of his times. How do you explain "universal truth" (as Rodriguez puts it) to a culture that has no memory of Moses, David, the Babylonian Exile, the Roman occupation and so on? How do you graft their story onto the story of Israel and the story of Jesus and the story of the Church?

I find myself wondering what I would do if someone told me to step on a picture of my wife. To save the lives of my friends and family? Yeah, I'd probably do it. It's just a picture, after all. God made man for the Sabbath, not the Sabbath for man, and all that. And yet... it's not *just* about stepping on the picture, is it. Ferreira and Rodriguez do not merely step on a picture and save some lives; they go on to become collaborators in the persecution, writing books that denounce Christianity and rooting out Christian symbols that others are trying to smuggle into the country. Would I write books denouncing my family and snitching on them to the authorities? I hope not. Maybe refusing to step on a picture *should* be the hill that I would choose to die on. I don't know.

I feel I can think out loud like this here at A&F. I have no idea how I would try to formulate an actual blog post, let alone an article, around these ideas (to say nothing of ideas I haven't mentioned yet).

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Evan C   

There's a screening here on Tuesday (turns out it doesn't open in CT until the 13th, not the 6th) which I'll be attending; I'll listen carefully for who provides that voice then.

Anyway, I've pondered a lot of the same questions since I read the novel last January, and the honest truth is I have no idea what I would do were I in Rodrigues' situation. And I love the film maintains that same uncertainty and enables me to ponder that question the same way.

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2 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

On second viewing, it still sounds like Hinds to me.

That's who I thought it sounded like too. I was expecting Dafoe.

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Brian Godawa, doing what a Brian Godawa does (emphasis added; and spoilers galore, natch):

- - -

I confess I have not read the book, so I do not know how faithful Scorsese is to Shusaku Endo’s original novel. But in movie adaptation, stories are shaped to the vision of the director, oftentimes subverting the original. So, despite some helpful appeals to the source material, a movie must nevertheless be understood in its own context and presentation apart from the book. And Scorsese seems to have made this story his own. . . .

Silence is a timely and poignant, though at times overly long, exploration of the nature of faith in the face of persecution and suffering. For that reason, I applaud the discussion that Silence raises and the soul searching it inspires in the faithful.

Especially in this era of rising Christophobia and persecution of Christians by all forms of fascism worldwide. From the Muslim torturing and murdering of Christians in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and other Islamic nations, to the growing tide of violence directed at believers in America, hatred is being increasingly focused on Christians, not for being hurtful in their actions, but simply for believing in God’s Word. And such spiritual devotion is considered a hate crime by many in our culture. . . .

That is why Silence is so poignant at this time. Remember my mantra, movies are not made in a cultural vacuum. They often reflect the zeitgeist of the era, the spirit of the age they are made within. And this era no longer believes in freedom of thought and speech and the free exchange of ideas. It now says to Christians, “Shut up. Your beliefs are bigotry, so you must renounce them and outwardly support the zeitgeist.” . . .

Jesus Christ does not ask us to stomp on him, he does not ask us or command us to sin, because it’s okay, he’ll forgive us. He forgives us despite our sins. Big difference. Jesus then says, “Go and sin no more,” not, “Come now, step on me, again.” . . .

Perhaps the movie Silence is not so different from Scorsese’s the Last Temptation of Christ, you know, the one that has Christ rejecting God and apostatizing himself. Do you see a pattern here?

Perhaps the way to understand this story is that it too fails to accept or understand transcendence. It seeks to root truth in the immanence of culture or survival, and so therefore, it values survival as the ultimate good, not God. If this life is all there is, then apostasy is justified in the name of saving lives.

Where in all this suffering is the responsibility of the torturers? Not once are we enjoined to consider their guilt in this story. It’s as if they are assumed as a given. If someone dies at the hand of an evil man, why is the believer blamed for their death? To say that people die because you will not renounce your faith is simply to shift the blame from the evil to the good.

It’s Original Blame Shifting from the Garden. . . .

I don’t mean to trivialize the honest soul-searching of the story or diminish the true faith parallels, but I found the very Roman spirituality of the film to be part of its Achilles’ heel.

First off, God explicitly commands us NOT to make images for worship in the Second Commandment (Deut. 5:8). So if I were given the opportunity, I would not merely step on the image of Christ, I would stomp on it as an idol condemned by God himself, burn it with fire and grind it to powder like Moses would (Exodus 32:20). Images are part of the problem, not the solution. Harder to sympathize with that.

But also, the belief of priestly confession as a requirement for forgiveness of sins imprisoned those Japanese people in fear and faithlessness as much as any Japanese Inquisition. . . .

In the movie, Scorsese attempts to make the priest’s end somehow noble, as his corpse clutches a symbol of a secret unlived faith on his funeral pyre. As if the symbol somehow negates his life of active betrayal to the end. But it really just illustrates the tragic fallacy of delusion in our modern world that tries to oppress Christians by forcing them to keep their beliefs entirely hidden and not to live them out.

In this way, Silence embodies the same illusionary meaning of the modern world that seeks to redefine truth as its opposite in all categories from morality to gender to science to history to truth itself. Apostasy is what the world, the flesh and the devil want. Apostasy in the name of faith is even better.

- - -

I'm just going to respond to one thing for now: The idea that we are *never* enjoined to consider the guilt of the Inquisitor and his henchmen is simply wrong. On *multiple* occasions, whenever the Inquisitor and his henchmen assert that Christianity simply never had the ability to flourish in Japan, Rodriguez replies that Christianity *was* flourishing *until the Inquisitor and his henchmen began trying to suppress it*. When the Inquistor says the "soil" of Japan was not conducive to Christianity, Rodriguez replies that the soil was "poisoned" by Japan's Inquisition.

And, I mean, c'mon, the Inquisitor and his henchmen are *torturing* and *murdering* people. Who in their right mind would think that that shouldn't tip us off to their guilt in the proceedings?

My mind is flashing back to how Jen Yamato said she sympathized with the Japanese authorities. She was at least aware that her reaction to the film was different from the reaction that was intended by the filmmakers and expected by the film's viewers. But Godawa seems to think that Yamato is actually in sync with Scorsese and company. And that's just... weird.

Oh, one other thing: The film "seeks to root truth in the immanence of culture or survival"? Maybe it's just me, but I thought the film was pretty clear on the tension and/or conflict between "universal truth" on the one hand, however one conceives of it, and cultural/survival issues on the other hand. What the film *does* do is raise the question of where *love* is to be found, in that space between truth and survival (particularly the survival of others apart from oneself). And I thought it was pretty clear that the Japanese authorities were twisting and perverting the priests' love, the better to shame them and control them from that point on. (One of my favorite lines in the film comes from a Japanese convert who says something about loving God and wondering if that love might be faith. Later on, in one of the film's most poignant moments, we see him singing a hymn on his cross, as he awaits his death. I am not so sure that any reasonable viewer could watch that scene and say that "survival" is the "ultimate good". Even in the most post-modern of terms, I think the average viewer might be inclined to say that that character had his "truth" and was willing to die for it, and that that might not have been an entirely bad thing, y'know?)

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I knew that reviews from certain evangelical sources were going to be horrifying, but wow... that doesn't make it any easier to read them. That hurt.

In other news...

I'm interviewing Scorsese today. Looks like I have a surprising amount of time to ask questions. Does anyone have any burning questions they'd like me to consider working into my plan?

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2 hours ago, Overstreet said:

I'm interviewing Scorsese today. Looks like I have a surprising amount of time to ask questions. Does anyone have any burning questions they'd like me to consider working into my plan?

What an opportunity! If given the chance, I'd ask him his thoughts on the role of clergy/pastors in our culture, how pastoral ministry could (or should) look like in our era, especially concerning the arts.

Second question: How does one maintain patience and longevity in one's chosen vocation, especially when facing setbacks or delays? He experienced obstacles and it took so many years to make Silence--what were practices that helped him endure?

Edited by Joel Mayward

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Kyle Smith writes: "Some of the less reverent, least fanboyish film critics have been tearing the film to shreds. Women critics especially seem not to find much to love in the film’s combination of emotional vacuity and endless repetition of scenes built around whether or not a Catholic can be coerced into stepping on an image of Jesus Christ." As evidence of the latter sentence (particularly the "women critics especially" bit), he quotes Deborah Ross (Spectator), Camila Long (Sunday Times), Manohla Dargis (New York Times) and Kate Taylor (Globe and Mail) -- two Brits, an American and a Canadian.

Does that seem like a reasonable characterization of this film's critical reception?

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Well, on Twitter, Alissa Wilkinson said Smith could have found pro-Silence female critics on Metacritic, and that's true, but only 67% of the female critics liked it whereas 82% of the male critics liked it, which would arguably seem to indicate that women are less likely to like the film. Then again, there are almost 40 male critics on Silence's Metacritic page versus 6 female critics, so the sample size isn't particularly helpful...

Then again, the Rotten Tomatoes page for this film has 21 solo female critics, and the percentage there is 67% again (14 fresh, 7 rotten) -- while the male percentage goes up to 89% (and if I had reviewed it by now I'd be nudging it even higher, so I'm part of the problem...?).

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Finally saw this too. So much to consider here.

I'll have more thoughts as I allow this to percolate, but as this is fresh, I need to ask it here: did anyone else notice some sound issues? Volume changes, poor dubbing (especially from Inoue in a few scenes), and even what sounded like static (there as a moment when Rodrigues was praying that sounded crackly)? Maybe it was just my theater or screening, but the issues weren't frequent enough to make me think that--it wasn't a constant problem, and no one else around me seemed to notice, but just with those particular scenes.

Sound problems with Silence is about as ironic as it gets.

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Evan C   

I think this is the longest review I've ever written, and there were still things I wanted to discuss but didn't get to. Anyway, I hope I managed to convey some semblance of coherent thought. I also quote Peter, SDG, and magadizer. https://catholiccinephile.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/silence/
 

Quote

 

Ever since I read Shusaku Endo’s literary masterpiece Silence last January, one question that has haunted me is: what would I have done had I been in Rodrigues’ place at the story’s climax? It’s a question I still don’t know the answer to, and one which any attentive reader of the novel will be forced to grapple with for some time. One of the highest compliments I can pay to Scorsese’s film adaptation is that it treats that question with the same amount of gravitas as the book does, and it forces the viewer to wrestle with his or her answer to it in the same way.

....

After wrestling with this film for three weeks, what I ultimately take away from it is that it’s a movie about love. In A Man For All Seasons, Thomas More says to his daughter shortly before his execution, “Finally, it’s not a matter of reason…finally, it’s a matter of love.” Regardless of whether one interprets Rodrigues’ final action as an act of love or an act of betrayal or both, what the film makes unmistakably clear is God’s love for us, that He was born into this world to demonstrate that love, and it never abandons us, even when we abandon Him as many times as Kichijiro apostatizes, which may to our limited understanding appear unreasonable.

 

 

Edited by Evan C

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Evan C   
10 minutes ago, Joel Mayward said:

Finally saw this too. So much to consider here.

I'll have more thoughts as I allow this to percolate, but as this is fresh, I need to ask it here: did anyone else notice some sound issues? Volume changes, poor dubbing (especially from Inoue in a few scenes), and even what sounded like static (there as a moment when Rodrigues was praying that sounded crackly)? Maybe it was just my theater or screening, but the issues weren't frequent enough to make me think that--it wasn't a constant problem, and no one else around me seemed to notice, but just with those particular scenes.

Sound problems with Silence is about as ironic as it gets.

I've seen it twice, and I didn't notice any problems either time.

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Thanks for thinking enough of me to include one of my thoughts in your Review, Evan.

In the screening I was at, I noticed no sound issues. I'm pretty sensitive to sound issues. I think it was your theater, Joel.

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Here's my reflection/review:

Quote

“Go ahead and pray, but do it with your eyes open,” Father Ferreira encourages Rodrigues as he leads him out to watch the physical torture being administered to the people in Rodrigues’ care? — no, in God’s care. Rodrigues’ faith is ultimately challenged not in the face of God’s apparent silence — for God is always speaking through His creation — but in laying down his pride and trust in human institutions and doctrines. Praying with our eyes open is realizing we are just as wretched and prone to betrayal and piteousness as Kichijiro. Praying with our eyes open to the suffering and pain and need around us requires we lay down even our most cherished ideologies, our sense of ability to affect change through pure faith or force of will, and to do what we can to extend mercy, grace and love to those around us and trust God to take care of what has already been done: salvation.

 

Edited by Darryl A. Armstrong

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Andrew   

Naturally, as an atheist, I didn't view this devotionally as so many here have, but I still thought it was excellent storytelling, with Scorsese in top form, exulting in tossing out moral dilemma after dilemma.  I won't link to my review, because I don't want to provoke or offend, but y'all know where to find it if so inclined.

I wondered, as a Kurosawa-obsessed viewer, and knowing Scorsese's high esteem for him, did anyone else see a parallel between the use of Jesus' image in Silence and the Buddha's image in Ran?  Both, after all, had much to say about the Divine's presence or absence in the midst of brutality and death.

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Regarding the dilemma of whether or not to "apostatize" and trample, a friend of mine pointed out John 12:43-44 to me:

42 Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

As my friend pointed out, the Pharisees (as always!) are portrayed in a fairly negative light, but at the same time the text doesn't explicitly deny or question their faith.

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*** SPOILERS ***

I think it needs to be emphasized that, for all the symbolic value placed on trampling the images, the act of "apostatizing" in this film involves a lot more than that. Ferreira is in the middle of writing a book denouncing the "deceptions" of Christianity when we finally meet him, and Rodriguez joins him in exposing Christian symbols and snitching on people who try to smuggle these symbols into the country.

Would I step on a picture of my wife if it saved lives? Almost certainly. (Let's call it a picture that she gave me, and maybe even autographed or something, so that its sentimental value begins to approximate the Christian attachment to sacred icons.) But would I do all the other stuff too? Would I write books denouncing her and criminalizing the other people who love her? That's a much more different question.

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I still need to see Silence again before I feel I can write a proper review, but I am wrestling with something regarding this film compared to another example of excellent religious cinema from 2016: The Innocents. Both deal with moral dilemmas regarding theodicy and the question of God's silence in the face of violence, but the nature of the evil and perpetrated violence feels somewhat different to me. Are the Jesuit priests in this film innocent in the same way as the Polish nuns? Or have Rodrigues and Garrupe knowingly entered into a realm where violence is almost certain, where others will suffer because of their actions? I'm also thinking of the depiction of cultures and faith traditions, how the agnostic French woman is the one who enters into the convent or other culture (akin to a missionary), at first hesitantly and with unease, but then becomes a genuine part of their community, even if a "conversion" never happens on either end.

At this point, I think Silence is likely the stronger film overall, but The Innocents brings a welcome perspective and asks similar-yet-distinct theodicy questions regarding God's action or inaction in the face of injustice, as does Of Gods and Men.

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