Silence - A Review of Scorsese's latest attack on the faith
If you were expecting an uplifting film for Christians from Martin Scorsese's "Silence" you will be sorely disappointed. Because this film is neither made for Christians nor uplifting. To clarify my point, let me define my terms.
As a Christian, I expect a film made for Christians to:
Silence fails on all counts save for some small support of the first item by showing a number of poor Japanese peasants, who are believers and are martyred for their faith - preferring death over denying their Lord and God Jesus by "apostatizing" - a formal denial of their faith done in this case by trampling on a plaque with an raised relief image of Jesus.
The question of apostasy is the specter that stalks the two main characters in Silence - young Jesuit priests Father Rodriques played by Spiderman's Andrew Garfield, and Father Garupe played by The Force Awaken's Adam Driver. The two get a report that a pillar of the Catholic church Father Ferreira who had many years ago gone as a missionary to Japan had apostatized. They can't believe it, and want to undertake a mission themselves to go to hopefully clear his name, but at minimum find out the truth one way or another. The year is 1633. Christians in Japan are being persecuted and killed. Despite the risk to themselves, they are determined to learn the truth.
The movie opens with Father Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson being a witness to the torture of Japanese believers, but we don't see what his response is until the end. So the question of apostasy is front and center at the beginning of the story. And it follows the young priests throughout the movie, as they land - helpless foreigners in Japan - in need of a guide. They are quickly led to a Kichijiro, a tormented believer filled with self loathing since he has himself apostatized, and is in fact denying the faith to anyone who accuses him of being a Christian when they first meet him.
This is one of the many times Scorsese will pose a question, and will repeatedly suggest the wrong answer - as far as the Christian faith is concerned - which is why it is not a "Christian" film, nor a Christian edifying film. The one thing it does well is pose the question - "What do you do in the face of the silence of God - when evil is all around you?" Particularly in face of the evil of the torture and killing of your family members? The second question is, should you apostatize to save yourself? What about to save your family members? Or friends? Or parishioner if you're a priest?
Some will suggest Scorsese is ambiguous in his answer, showing both those who hold fast to their faith, and those who don't. I would counter with the suggestion that Scorsese is like the supreme Japanese samurai inquisitor he depicts. The inquisitor's prime interest is not in the rank and file Christians and whether he gets them to deny their faith. He's interested in the leaders, the priests. Get them, and the laity will follow. Thus the question is not merely what will believers do, but the leaders of the faith - what will they do? What should they do? And what is the right thing to do in the face of the suffering around them?
Let me raise the spoiler warning here so I can continue to make my point. "Christian" movies should end like the Christian's book, the Bible: with God triumphant over all, the faithful having conquered demons and moved mountains, and unbelievers left pondering how they missed the obvious power, goodness and truth of God. But that is not the type of ending you get with Silence. Unbelievers are left wondering not at the power of God, but at the value and wisdom of being a Christian in Japan. Believers are left to ponder a number of hard questions, many of which I've listed below. These questions are not for the Christian timid of faith.
Silence's failure to depict the power of God to achieve his purposes removes it from consideration from being an uplifting "Christian" movie. Theologically, it suffers from the same fatal flaw of the original 1973 version of William Peter Blatty's "The Exorcist." In that film, the demon is finally exorcised, but at the cost of the life of the main exorcist, the priest Father Merrin. Not what you'd call a triumphant victory worthy of holding up to be emulated. Likewise with this movie. In the end two of the three priests apostatize. One could argue however, that each kept their personal faith - secretly. They simply no longer spoke of their faith publicly, and in fact, publicly denied the faith.
This idea of keeping your faith private and personal is one of the schemes of Satan (2 Cor 2.11) to silence Christians and make them disobedient to the Great Commission (Matt 28.19-20). Thus I could see why one who (by all reports) blasphemed Christ with his "The Last Temptation of Christ" would hold up an easy way to slip into disobedience as an example. However I find it odd that Scorsese thinks that's what Christians want to see. His propensity to disrespect Christ is on full display again here, in this case putting words in the mouth of Jesus encouraging the priest to trample on the image of Jesus. Clearly Scorsese knows not of whom he depicts, because this is the same Jesus who literally faced down the devil by quoting scripture (Matt 4.1-11), and faced down Pilate the Roman governor who had the power to execute him (and ultimately did), and neither lied, nor dishonored God, nor played games with a governor who was more interested in appeasing Rome and retaining his position by squelching an incipient riot than dealing honestly with the miracle working Son of God. Jesus instead stood in silence and entrusted himself to God. (Jn 19.9-11). This is the Jesus who, having triumphed over the forces of evil promises persecuted believers,
Yet Scorsese thinks this Jesus, who encourages faithfulness even to the point of death, would encourage a leader of the church to lead others into the sin of unfaithfulness by telling him to apostatize, and thus to lead other believers into it by his example. Scorsese thinks this is so reasonable that this is the only time in the movie God's silence is broken - to make an unbiblical appeal to a priest to lead others into sin. Appalling. This is another reason this is not a "Christian" film, nor appealing to Christians.
The one thing the film does well is raise a number of questions. Questions that a Christian should think through and resolve before seeing the film not after. Which is why I recommend young and/or weak Christians not see this film. Here are some of the questions raised, along with a Biblical suggestion on how to answer it as a start.
Questions (Directly asked or implied)
Why is God silent in the face of
Will I be able to escape persecution
as a Christian?
What if I'm not strong enough? Can
God forgive me if I deny him?
How can I explain God's silence to
them (suffering Christians)?
- On the Existence of God
- On the Efficacy of the Church
Clearly Scorsese manages to raise a number of questions regarding the Christian faith and how to live it - particularly in the face of persecution. And even without the persecution many still have questions. But one's answer to these questions should be made long before seeing this film, least you be influenced by one who regularly dabbles either directly in, or on the edge of blasphemy in his religiously themed films. That's why this is not a film for weak or young Christians; or for those looking to be uplifted. Such should avoid this film like the plague. This is a film for the mature Christian, who are strong and steadfast in their faith, with the qualities of an elder - ("He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." Tit 1.9) who are looking for an opportunity to hone their apologetics (defense of the faith); and their answers to the above tough questions.
Duane Caldwell | posted 8 February 2017
1. Disclosure - I did not see The Last Temptation
of Christ - I typically don't knowingly go to see blasphemy. This
remark is based on a number of objective reports of the content of Scorsese's The
Last Temptation of Christ.