Silence movie full length review - Where is God?
An artist's identity may look complex at first, but on deeper analysis a lifetime's work betrays distilled and inescapable pillars. Scorsese's Italian, Catholic, East Coast identities hide behind no subtleties.
A pillar of identity does not determine one's belief system or political views. It does not control actions, opinions or decisions. It is an essence that outstays an individual's will and persists in spite of conscious choices.
There are atheists, and then there are lapsed Catholics. I am of the latter sort and though I have not professed any form of faith for three-fourths of my life, the dogmas of that first fourth condition my anguish.
The harrowing silence of God: His failure to answer prayers, no matter how fervent; the inescapable injustice of existence; the transparent deception that reward for suffering and iniquity is only given in the beyond from whence no one can give witness to the benevolence of the divine.
This violent emptiness is an exquisite shudder down the back of those who pray and those who have long since stopped praying.
And cinema, made of sounds and of images, of reflections and actions, of experience and supposition, has on occasion paused to listen to God's silence.
The returning crusading knight in Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957) heaved in exalted frustration at God's apparent indifference to the Black Death. Jehanne the Maid expected St Michael or even Christ Himself to testify for her at the trial when bishops and monks condemned her for heresy. Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928) is famous for exceptionally telling the story of the trial from the point of view of the Maid and her entirely legitimate questions: If not for the most fervent martyrs for the faith, for whom will God deign to break his silence and show an inkling of his power? When will God right all the wrongs?
And if life is such a precious divine gift, why does God expect its faithful to throw it away when faced by the prospect of martyrdom when a formal abjuration could preserve that life?
These are inevitable questions for anyone who has ever been a Catholic. We are brought up to beg for the opportunity to be challenged to throw away the miseries of our mortal lives in witness of fervent faith and hope of eternal life.
And yet, even Jesus, the first and most obvious martyr, wailed at the torment of the abandonment and loneliness left by the deafening silence of God. 'Father, why have You forsaken me?' Would this not be a good time for that drama You pulled at my baptism at the hands of John?
A younger Martin Scorsese made The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). If Jesus was man, and his suffering was to mean anything, he could not be exempt from the doubt and fear that the afterlife and the eternal righting of wrongs may be a hoax.
Back when that film was out, the Catholic hierarchy rattled their fatwas at the notion of Jesus the Man wishing, even for a moment, for a long life with a wife and relative prosperity.
But Jesus is no example to other humans if he cannot be imagined to have the desires of other humans: sex, money, life itself. The basic needs so devoutly to be wished for while nailed to a cross facing oblivion for a trumped up charge.
And, what's worse, on behalf of a God who cannot be bothered to look at the scene for long enough to comment and comfort by some evidence or experience of His presence.
Silence, is a retelling of The Last Temptation of Christ, without the confusing dogmatic debate of the duality of the Jesus figure. Instead, the heroes are 17th century Portuguese missionaries smuggled into Sengoku Japan where Christianity was banned and persecuted.
Several critics have complained about the white man's burden perspective of a story on missionaries. We no longer approve of the zeal of proselytisers and we are embarrassed by the damage done in the name of the cross throughout the globe in what was arrogantly called the Age of Discovery.
But the film is perfectly conscious of the incoherence, the intellectual arrogance, the disruptive and destructive venom of proselytization. It has several Japanese characters, suspiciously gracious, polite and enlightened to the extent that they are probably better representatives of our sensibilities of our time than any historically accurate bailiffs of the Nagasaki regime, making the point and poking the logical holes in Christian zeal even as they boil, behead and burn stubborn anonymous cross-wielders with a very vague appreciation of theology.
But this is no historical drama, in spite of all the trappings of a Kurosawa dramatization.
This is about the questions Jesus asked on the cross, and following his example, the doubts of all the Joans, Lawrences, Catherines and so on when faced by martyrdom purely on a matter of point.
Why will not God speak up? How can I know God has chosen me to suffer this death and what if, after all he has not?
The Jesuits in this story have different answers to those questions and the answers they give determine in one way or another their fates. But, they must wonder, where the answers they came up with truly their own, or was God thinking through them?
I disagree with those who described this film excessively devotional. Devotion requires fervour, and fervour is the abject abandonment of doubt. This film is about doubt.
I do not believe in God. But I always think of Him, and wonder if He thinks of me too. It is not just an artist's identity that is distilled by his work. It also distills the identity of the viewer and this film has touched mine.