Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ misses the mark
Recently I watched the movie “Silence.” It was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this last time around. Based on the novel by Shusaku Endo, it is set in early seventeenth century Japan and tells the true story of two young Jesuit priests who are sent from Portugal to Japan to find another Jesuit, a Father Ferrara, who has stopped communicating with his superiors. The question: is he dead or alive? Is he in captivity? The young Jesuits are filled with passionate fervor to go to Japan and free him from harm’s way if he is still alive. Japan at this time is equally intent on ridding their country of western influences, including the Catholic Church, and has launched a brutal persecution against all Christians and especially any priests who dare wander inside their borders.
The suffering at the heart of the story occurs inside Father Rodriguez (Andy Garfield), the head of the twosome, as he feels the pain of the Christian peasants in the face of their persecution, scrambles to avoid apprehension by the authorities, wonders where he can possibly find Ferrara or if he is to be found at all, and most importantly he agonizes over what he experiences as the silence of God in the face of all this. It’s a story of struggling for physical survival but also the survival of his faith.
Gradually the noose tightens around Rodriguez until he finds himself imprisoned in a cell at the Japanese “Inquisition.” Several Christians are brought out into the courtyard where his makeshift cage is located. The Japanese explain that these peasants will be tortured to death in front of him unless he denies his faith by stepping on a picture of Jesus. The torture commences and the picture is placed at his feet. All he has to do to end their horrible suffering is to plant his right foot on the picture, but within him is the belief that such an act will make him vulnerable to eternal damnation personally as well as damaging the faith of the many who have come to respect him.
I do not want to spoil the ending by telling you if he does apostasize, if he finds Ferrara, and how the issue of God’s silence is addressed. The story was brought to light by a Dutch trader to Japan, eventually found its way to Shusaku Endo and then to Martin Scorsese, the director.
What I found curious came at the very end of the credits where it says the movie is dedicated to the Christian martyrs of Japan and then the words “Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam”, “To the Greater Glory of God”, the motto of the Jesuit Order. While I get it, it seems to me that Scorsese is missing his own point from the movie. Towards the end there is an intense dialogue between Rodriguez and an intelligent Buddhist among his captors. The Japanese want to keep the purity of Buddhism unsullied by the West. They say Buddhism does not want to convert anyone but only to learn from others, yet their tactics are anything but in the spirit of Buddha. Rodriguez for his part insists on the universal and absolute truth of Christian dogma. Both, it seems to me, are being closed minded. Had they each transcended tribal consciousness and embraced the other as a source of wisdom, the whole controversy could have been avoided. Why then does Scorsese side with the Christians in the credits and hold up their banner? I think he missed his own point. Better to have dedicated his movie to Wisdom.
Bill O’Brien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at his website www.billobrienconsciousnesscoaching.com.