Movie Review: Martin Scorsese’s Silence

By: Dominic Silla

Spoilers: If you have yet to see the film, I would recommend doing so first and then coming back to read this review.

When I head that my seminary was going to be hosting a screening of the new film “Silence” (based on the book by Shusaku Endo) direct by Martin Scorsese I was quite excited that I was finally going to be able to see what everyone was talking about. The idea of seeing the movie brought up within me a mixed bag of emotions and feelings, from who the director was to the subject matter of persecution of Catholic believers. The movie was bound to be an emotionally charged one and to that end, it certainly accomplished its mission.

As the movie opens one is left wondering what is going to happen, where as other films open with a score of some sort or some type of action, the move opens with none of that, just silence. Then you hear crickets and then, you begin to see persecution of Jesuit priests, boiling water from hot spring being slowly dripped onto their skin. This sets the tone for the beginning of the movie, but I was certainly surprised that this is not where the movie sits. It is one thing to make a film about Christian persecution, it is another to provoke conversations and deep thought from almost every moment and I think this is where Scorsese really accomplishes his feat of art.

In a great many movies they are meant to be viewed from the perspective of a spectator. In “Silence” you are forced to connect with the people on screen. The way this is most evident on the front end is what would you do? I’m sure many of us are willing to die for things we believe in. You would die before you give up your treasured beliefs. But what about others? Would you allow them die for what you believe to be true? Do not be too quick to answer. I would recommend that you think on it, wrestle with it, assess what you hold to be true and how it is important and is it enough to make the decision for you.

On a deeper lever though, we identify on a spiritual level. In the character of Kichijiro, we see a man who is continually turning away from God and apostatizing, and yet theologically is this not what we do when we sin against our Lord? This is the thing I was forced to deal with personally. How many times had I purposefully acted against the command of my God? How many times do I sin each day? And yet, this is part of the miracle of God’s grace. By the third time this happened in the film and Father Rodrigues is getting quite tired of giving Kichijiro absolution for his continued failure of will to withstand persecution Matthew 18:22 came into my head. How many times does one forgive this one who continues to apostatize the faith? How many times a day am I forgiven for my own sins. [1]

This film truly does give one pause and force one to think deeply of the themes within. I had the privilege of not only watching the movie for free at my seminary but to be able to stay afterward for a post-movie discussion with Makoto Fujimura. He is the author of “Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering” and advised on the production. His incites into the making of the move and the themes within were indeed eye-opening. Though the movie most definitely has a Roman Catholic bent (the main characters are Jesuit priests), the theme of God’s grace within this film and the book by Endo feature so strongly that he had at points been accused of holding a theology that was more Protestant than Catholic. Endo, himself a Catholic, responded to such things with a simple “Thank You”.[2] It is again, on this very note, that the film speaks to the necessity for conversation. Why do we believe what we believe? What separates us doctrinally? How do we better understand the gospel, which so many have died for within the particular frame of the Japanese Christians up close, but more widely all Christian martyrs in the history?

At one point in the film Fr. Rodrigues, under an interrogation of sorts quotes the Church Father Tertullian, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. This is a concept that Christians down the ages have assented to and held to, but to repeat what was said above here, how do we wrestle with such ideas and experiences on a personal, intimate, on the ground level. We have been sheltered in the west from persecution like the kind we see in this film, and I think that it behooves Christians to come to terms and discuss such things.

Ultimately, I have a high opinion of this film and I think it is incredibly useful as a discussion tool. I also think that it is one of those unique movies that you can watch multiple times and pick up on new things each time to delve into and think on. A great film and great theme’s with-in for the viewer to wrestle with, what more can the viewer ask for?

 

 

 

Post-Script

A little bit about me, I am a Reformed Christian studying at Westminster Theological Seminary. While there is much that, as a Reformed Christian, that I disagree with, I think that there is a great deal of places where the two parties can come together and discuss or even discuss within their own specific groups. It is also important to note that there will be ideas within the movie that one disagrees with, that is a good thing. It means you are thinking critically of the subject matter and reckoning with it. This movie, and I would venture to say the book before it is a work of cinema, was and is deep seated with culture and should be treated as such. The movie gets people thinking and talking and that is an accomplishment in my book.

[1] I also think that this is a tie in to the gospel. Christ did not die to give me grace for my particular sin(s), He died to give me grace for my sin. As a human being I am one who is sinful to the core, and yet by the indwelling of Christ and the quickening of my soul by the Holy Spirit, I am made into a new creation.

[2] I am not speaking of my own opinion of Catholicism or Protestantism here, commenting on what Endo was himself accused of and how he responded.

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