MOVIE REVIEW; SILENCE (A story about Faith, Martyrs, Apostates, and Stupidity)
SILENCE (Movie Review)
Unless you are a Catholic, ex-Catholic, an evangelical Christian, or a total Apostate to your former religion or church--THIS FILM IS NOT for you!
Martin Scorsese has wrought a film
which no 2 eyes will see in the same way.
On the surface, it is about the clash (the push back against Christianity and Priests by Buddhists and officials particularly in Nagasaki) resulting from Catholic evangelism inside Japan. Yet--honestly--the movie has reached beyond the history into a No Man's Land of self-sacrifice and lunatic zeal.
We go on a journey and become eyewitnesses to a beautiful display of utter STUPIDITY (i.e. becoming a 'Fool for Christ') and the bottom line reckoning of two men with the actual human cost of spreading YOUR faith to others living inside a foreign way of thinking.
As a former Jehovah's Witness, my ears, and eyes perked up from the get-go! (Oh, how we loved to throw ourselves into harm's way to prove our zeal and faith! Oh, how seemingly noble it all was (in our own mind) and Oh how empty it all was of rational meaning!)
How then, to review this film?
If you are at all familiar with the classic novel HEART of DARKNESS you'll understand the architecture of this plot.
Two young priests mentored and converted by an older Priest (Liam Neeson) are vexed to discover a report that he has renounced his faith and has become Apostate after converting thousands of Japanese to Christianity.
The two priests feel called to take a gargantuan journey into Darkness in hostile Nagasaki to find and "save" him from his renunciation.
They love him...and "saving" is what Christianity does--right?
Along the way they discover, much to their horror, dozens of desperate Christianized native Japanese hunted and brutalized into near extinction.
The Japanese Christians are desperate because the man (Neeson) who converted them was captured and tortured and removed--they have no one as Confessor to absolve them of their sins.
I won't go into the in's and out's of the journey and people because it's meant to be a learning experience for the Priests and US in the audience.
What you will witness is harsh, blood-curdling torture along the way whereby Christians are given the choice of STEPPING ON JESUS (a medallion with an iconic image of the Saviour) effectively publicly renouncing Him and Catholic beliefs altogether. If they comply--they go free! Otherwise, the torture continues to the point of being burned alive, drowned, decapitated, or...well, you get the idea, right?
I'll stop right here.
An intelligent human being should clearly be able to reason their way out of such a situation--so you might think--right?
You go to God in prayer and say, "Hey Lord--I'm loving you all the way but I'm going to pretend to renounce you. You forgave Peter for denying you 3 times, right?"
I never did this as a Jehovah's Witness. The Christians in the movie didn't do it either. Why not?
BECAUSE a FOOL doesn't think.
A FOOL follows orders blindly. We listen to our leaders!
If you go see this film, you are waiting for the final confrontation between the former mentor (Neeson) and his battered and beleaguered younger self in the form of the young man, Priest trying to save him.
This conversation was like sticking my head inside a giant bell and having the outside struck by a hammer!
It resonated into every cell of my body because I have been both men in my lifetime. I clearly understand the argument from both sides. I have reached the conclusion you will discover at the very end. I already reached this conclusion years ago.
Imagine an Apostate in Jehovah's Witnesses who was former Elder, Pioneer, a Ray Franz sort of fellow sitting down with a younger Elder whom he converted years previously---this is the conversation at the film's climax.
Should you spend the time necessary to go see such a movie?
I can't answer for you. I can only say I'm glad I did.
Nice review and insight - connection to Conrad. Interestingly enough, the original novel was written by Catholic Japanese circa 1965 ( remember those days?). Also, as was pointed out to me from time to time back then, a remnant of those Christians survived into the 19th century, contacting foreign church missionaries when the country was re-opened to foreign trade and ideas. Though, despite modern Japan's enjoyment of Christmas celebration it is not a Catholic/Christian nation.
It is not the first or only time that people of faith, whatever it might be, are confronted with such no-exit situations. I got hooked several years ago on reading Alan Furst's novels about pre-World War II Europe and its covert conflicts. Constantly, the protagonists seemed to be drawn into back rooms with secret police or scary operatives and informed that there was going to be a big war between Hitler and Stalin. They would lean over the table and more or less say, "Now... on which side are you going to be?" None of the above was not acceptable in those circumstances. And I thank God that I was born three years after that conflict was all over.
Funny how in the movies it's the Christians who are always getting persecuted when in real life it's often the complete opposite.
Thanks for the review, looking forward to seeing it...
I wondered if I would like such a movie or not. Your review helps me. I will give it a try.
Martin Scorcese is a seeker after some peace of mind and heart with a view to making 'Spirituality' work somehow in a secular world.
He's the only filmmaker I know asking these questions and the amount of money this film is losing means nobody else will follow :)
I give him credit for what he's put on the plate. I simply disagree that a willingness to die for what you believe is automatically noble. The men who flew jet airliners filled with passengers into the World Trade Center were men willing to die for religious beliefs too.
The naivete' a human must have--the innocence of heart--is more troubling to a mature man (myself) than to a young one. Why? We want to stand for something meaningful, to make our life count when we are young. As we age, we see none of it mattering much in the long run. Or is that too cynical?
Good comments from one and all, btw. Thanks!
Another observation which I didn't have time to include.
Adrian Goldsworthy, a historian of the Roman Empire wrote "How Rome Fell" recently. His tone and focus are a bit different than say Gibbons or Michael Grant. I got to the point where he mentions some of the early Christian persecutions just a night or two ago. I believe it was Decius following up on Pliny's reports of the 2nd century ...
Anyway, there were remarkable similarities to the approach of the Japanese, but the enforcement was only sporadic. There were symbolic acts of apostacy in public places and targets were offered two or three chances before the shoe was dropped.
Goldsworthy suggested that the Romans saw Christians as a public morale problem in the face of other threats to the Empire ( Eastern enemies, barbarian incursions, plague...). Similar to the Japanese in the film but not with the decade after decade resolve in every prefecture. Not everyone was on the same page as can be inferred by Constantine's position. Evidently he saw more evidence for a Roman civic mindset in 4th century Christians than in the mindset of the Roman Empire's urban masses. Plus they were literate, writing reams ( or the goatskin equivalent) of apologies, histories and debates among themselves. It's hard to get in the mind of the Japanese rulers at the time, save that they didn't like anything that was coming ashore from tthe outside world.
Warning: Yes, this is State Department propaganda about Japan and the Japanese created during WWII in the U.S.
It is racially insulting, of course. That's how it was done in pre-political correctness times.
This is a very interesting documentary on the history of Japan in terms of ideology and religion and the part this played on making the peasant Japanese soldier a real force to be reckoned with.