[This blog post contains spoilers for the film Silence.]
Faith is, I think, the single most complex aspect of human existence in both belief and practice. I mean faith in both a secular and spiritual sense. Putting your trust in something bigger than yourself with no guarantee of reciprocation of any kind is something that seemingly goes against every instinct programmed into our DNA. We learn this in childhood. To have faith in the notion that when our guardians disappear to tend to other needs that they will return to take care of us once more. To have faith that our guardians will be able to provide for us when we can’t do so for ourselves. To have faith that these people will live up to what we consider the ideal for the rest of our lives. In this, religion and secular faith share a kinship: the relationship of the believer to a paternal figure. In many religions, higher powers take on the role of a mother or father, with Christianity leaning heavily on the patriarchal side of the equation. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” Christians (his children) chant in communion. The story of Jesus and his sacrifice to humanity, while being about a great many things, is heavily the story about a man and his internal and external conflict with the men he calls father and the sacrifice he makes for one of them.
Martin Scorsese, a man who’s had a lifelong struggle with his own faith, understands this father/child relationship believers have to their faith. He understands that like a child looking to their father for guidance and wisdom, sometimes we struggle to find either within this enigmatic person into whom we put all of our convictions. He understands that the father or fatherly figure can’t always live up to the idealized image we have shaped in our hearts and mind and that we struggle to reconcile this contradiction. He understands that even if we are given such guidance and wisdom that both will be tested by worldviews, philosophies and actions that may not gel with our own and sometimes downright cause us to question what we were taught. Martin Scorsese understands these things so much he decided to make them an important element in his magnum opus about faith and philosophy being put to the test, Silence.
In Silence we follow two Portuguese priests named Rodrigues and Garupe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver respectively) as they are sent to Japan by Father Valignano (Ciarán Hinds) to search for Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a priest once thought dead but now rumoured to have apostatized (to renounce one’s beliefs) and assimilated into Japanese society. Rodrigues in particular finds this hard to believe, but as their journey to find this man and give communion and confession to a faithful few Japanese Christians who live under a strict rule of outlawed Christianity, Rodrigues has his faith challenged like never before. He watches as people are crucified, cut, and drowned all due to their almost childlike belief in not only God but in Rodrigues himself. He refuses to apostatize even if it means more suffering for the Japanese people who protect them. He refuses because of his own faith in a religion that celebrates the ability to persevere suffering because God the Father will provide eventually. Scorsese shoots the Japanese Christians flocking to Rodrigues for confession and tangible trinkets of faith the same way children do to an adult holding candy. Rodrigues himself calls out to God in his prayers the same way a son calls for his father’s approval of their work. Each prayer we hear continues to get more desperate as the suffering escalates and the Japanese Inquisitor Inoue (Issei Ogata) starts confronting Rodrigues’ beliefs with the realities of Japanese society. Maybe the teachings of his father God aren’t as ironclad as he thought.
But he keeps such doubts to himself until they come to a head with the reveal of Ferreira existence and adoption of Japanese philosophy and society. It’s earth shattering for Rodrigues. This man he’s been searching for isn’t the pillar of unshakeable faith he thought he was. It mirrors his relationship to God at this point in the narrative. God hasn’t provided the easy answers Rodrigues so desperately seeks. His fathers have both come up short in his eyes, which makes his eventual apostatizing that much more painful. However, Scorsese doesn’t give us any easy or concrete answers. As the movie ends and Rodrigues has joined Ferreira in accepting the Japanese way of life (becoming hound dogs for the government and sniffing out items entering the country with Christian iconography) Ferreira slips and tells Rodrigues that “Only our Lord can judge your heart.” Even though he denies having said “Our Lord” it’s enough to make Rodrigues realize that faith in the heavenly father (and his surrogate father) is more complicated than he once thought and leads him to a place that has him embrace the contradictions of faith and those we put our faith in. He learns that like Ferreira before him that sometimes faith must be practiced in silence.
In 2014 IU Cinema screened Martin Scorsese’s 1972 film Boxcar Bertha as part of the The Art and Legacy of Roger Corman series, which included a visit and Jorgensen Lecture from Roger Corman. That same year IU Cinema’s Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series included a visit and Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture from Krzysztof Zanussi.
In our inaugural season in 2011 screenwriter Paul Schrader was present for a screening of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Schrader’s visit included a Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture.
David Carter is a film lover and a menace. He plays jazz from time to time but asks you not to hold that against him. His taste in movies bounces from Speed Racer to The Holy Mountain and everything in between.