One would think that a Martin Scorsese film with a ready-made audience of 1.1 billion Catholics would be a no-brainer in terms of marketing. Strangely, the money men behind the director’s latest masterpiece, Silence, decided to go with an “art house” angle instead of any serious outreach to those who could make it a smash hit. The decision will cost the film millions during its theatrical run, but that still does not change the fact that it is a must-see effort by the man who brought the world Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and a slew of other great projects.
For those who are unfamiliar with the plot of the movie, which is based on a Shûsaku Endô’s 1966 novel, it involves two 17th century Jesuit missionaries who must look for their mentor in Japan. As an “army of two” they must find out if there is truth to the claim that their mentor rejected the faith after years of torment by officials.
Mr. Scorsese recently said that “three or four great actors” turned down roles for Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), Father Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver). After watching the film (How much do you want to bet that one of those actors was Leonardo DiCaprio?), it is safe to say that it was probably a blessing in disguise. Everyone involved delivers, particularly Mr. Garfield.
In short, see the movie if you are a fan of cinema — real cinema. Those with an attention span shaped by years of time on Twitter will be nowhere to be found, and you will exit the theater better for the experience.
“Doug, Doug, Doug, you need to give me more than that,” you say? Yes, I understand. That is a reasonable request, and since I do not want to spoil too much of the film I will just say that the central question is one that I have covered before on this blog: Why does God seem absent at times?
When we go through trials and tribulations and pray, silence can be incredibly frustrating. People want God to be the cartoonish figure with a big white beard — they want Him to be a material being — and the absence of an on-call Divine Psychiatrist causes many men to believe they are alone in the world.
As Hubert Van Zeller has said, “We always imagine that if we felt strong, we would not mind having to carry the Cross. But the whole point is that we should not feel strong.”
Silence, perhaps to the chagrin of many priests, will cause people to question their own faith — but that is a good thing because the Truth can and should be able to stand up to any scrutiny. The faith that has gone through an intellectual blast furnace and survived comes out on the other side a spiritual steel, which is exactly what is needed in the modern world. Catholics need to intimately understand the value of pain and why such ordeals allowed by our Creator are always a blessing (as tough as that may be to comprehend).
As C.S. Lewis says in The Problem of Pain:
“Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object — we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.
As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished. It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes.
If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.” — C.S. Lewis.
Silence is not for the faint of heart, but at the end of the day it forces religious viewers to objectively examine the strength of their own faith.
Would you drown before renouncing God? Would you burn? Would you die any number of gruesome deaths? If not, then why?
Very few men or women ever die a saint, but that reality does not free us from the obligation to try. Mr. Scorsese may have a complicated history with his Catholic upbringing (he is certainly not alone), but there should be no doubt about the quality of Silence. Hollywood producers discouraged him from making the film for decades, but he persevered. For that, moviegoers owe him a debt of gratitude.