MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver.
Silence, based on a 1966 novel by Japanese writer Shûsako Endû, will likely have left your neighborhood movie screen (if it was ever in town) by the time this review is posted. The movie is not creating much of a stir and has been ignored for major awards. That’s a shame, because I consider this picture to be not only one of Martin Scorsese’s best films but also a theological film of great depth.
Fifty years ago, international filmmakers as diverse as Sweden’s Ingmar Bergman and France’s Robert Bresson were creating religious films that dealt with the deep challenges of an abiding faith. Both directors struggled with the idea of a loving God who often seemed absent in the world. Rather than creating works that confirmed basic beliefs, their movies took God seriously enough to question and confront the theologies of their time; it was a time still reeling from the aftermath of a world war, the Holocaust, and nuclear proliferation. Where is God when God seems silent?
Our current age is no less anxious about the world, but less willing to venture into unexplored challenges.
And challenging is the right word to us in describing Silence. There is much silence in this 161-minute film, which often moves at a deliberate slow pace. The first scene gives us a glimpse of Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a Jesuit priest from Portugal serving in 17th century Japan. He is listening to screams from a group of Japanese Christians who are being tortured with scalding water. Father Ferreira is told that the torture will stop if he will denounce his faith in Christ.
In the next scene, we are back in Portugal and meet two young priests (Garfield and Driver) who are granted permission to find Father Ferreira, who is missing and suspected of abandoning the Christian faith. Once in Japan they enter into a country that is now hostile to Christians, putting hundreds of believers to death. There is a Christian underground church that is delighted to have priests with them to administer the sacraments and bring them solace. Together they form a band of pilgrims who hide out in caves on their journey to find Father Ferreira. It is quite certain that these priests will likely find themselves in a situation where they will have to decide between dying as a martyr or rejecting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Silence raises all kinds of provocative questions of faith. What does it mean to claim Christ as Lord? Would you hold onto your personal faith if you could save a dozen lives by simply going through the motions of apostasy? How many times should you forgive someone? How do you persuade people of another faith to abandon their beliefs and accept Jesus Christ as the one true path to God? When is torture justifiable? How do you deal with the silence of God? How can we bring the faith to a culture that we do not understand? When Christ speaks to you, how do you that it is the voice of God and not simply a projection of your desires?
Director Scorsese (in his younger years) considered preparing for the Catholic priesthood. Although he traded seminary for filmmaking, his movies often deal with themes of doubt, forgiveness, confession, suffering, and redemption. It has taken over twenty-five years for Scorsese to turn his screenplay (co-written with Jay Cocks) into a film. Silence is a film of ideas that asks the hard questions and refuses to give easy answers. It is a movie that invites us to rediscover the challenges of an abiding faith. It is a work of art from a master filmmaker and highly recommended to those willing to go along on the journey.
Five halos: A demanding and often challenging film with great theological themes.
Three pitchforks: Scenes of death and torture.
Thank you for this review and reminding us of the name of the movie. We only have seen one ad for it on TV and missed the name. We are guilty of not supporting the theater showings of Christian movies and this may be a form of 'Silence' to the world and to those who produce them. Movies produced by Roma Downey with husband Mark Burnett or Kurt Cameron have many works we have missed. Your review has provided us with historic movie information and facts with thoughts on this movie. Sounds close to 'The Passion' from a human experiences.
Don & Karen Upson, co-pastors, Iberia, Sixteen and Liberty UMCs, Mid-Ohio District
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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