SILENCE

Silence

MPAA Rating: R | Rating: ★★★★½
Release year: 2016
Genre: Drama, Spiritual Director: Martin Scorsese

Though they do not see me, I see the priests. I am eager to see them, yet also ashamed and fearful, and hide from their presence. When I learn they are seeking me out–they want Kichijiro!–I try to push them and their invitation away. Yet something inside me–the sake? the Spirit?–compels me to help them with their quest, and I find myself in the role as a guide to those who should be guiding me. They are clearly disgusted with me; Garupe mostly ignores me. But Rodrigues…I cannot shake the image of his face, and I am compelled, even drawn to him. Bless me, Father.

I help the priests come to the village. They must remain hidden in the hut in the hills, and never truly understand or comprehend our daily lives. For all their passion for mission and service, there is still an aloofness from the Portuguese, a sense that they are spiritually or culturally above my Japanese brothers and sisters. They do little to truly understand our situation, but do come to offer the sacraments. Oh, but they are above me! I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. I even despise myself for what I have done. Forgive me, Lord!

The suffering of my family, the suffering of the KirishitansI cannot bear it, and I am overwhelmed by the horrors done to those who profess faith in the Christian God. When others would not, I stepped on the fumie. What’s more, I did it gladly, eager to spare my own life. Why was I born during this period of persecution and suffering, Father? It’s not fair. It’s not just. Father Rodrigues asks me for my confession. He knows I am a Christian. But am I? I have apostatized, my family killed. I believe in God; I want God’s forgiveness. What sort of faith is this? Is my faith defined by my actions, even those actions which are knowingly selfish? Can such a faith save me? How far does Christ’s grace extend?

When the villagers are discovered by the inquisitor, four of us are detained and challenged to apostatize. Garupe firmly insists that we must not apostatize, but Rodrigues tells us to trample. Garupe looks angry, Mokichi seems troubled, but I confess that I feel relief. So I trample. I would trample again. I see the three others placed on crosses on the edge of the sea, drowned in the elements of creation. I hear Mokichi sing a hymn of praise to God. The image of them suffering for Christ is strangely painterly, even beautiful, and I am filled with shame. Yet I cannot look away. I see the way of the cross before me, and I am at once repelled and captivated. Their bodies are burned. The priests flee the village. I pray I never see any of them again.

I wander the hills, my own village destroyed by inquisitors. The grey, cloudy mists of the mountains are a symbol of the morally murky world of this land. Suddenly I notice a man stumbling before me, like someone who has emerged from death. It is Father Rodrigues, as dirty and smelly on the outside as I feel inside. I suddenly have pity for him; he is no longer above me, but with me, a fellow wanderer on the earth. I feed him, and he listens to my confession. There is a hesitancy in his posture–even though he is with me, he is still distant. Perhaps our cultures are too unalike, we cannot bridge this gap? Or is it something more…a sense of contempt? “I thirst,” he chokes out. The words of our Lord on the cross. I recognize, not for the first time, that he believes this journey we are on is one in tandem with Christ’s own mission and passion. But I am not Christ. I am no savior or saint. Lord, have mercy.

I lead the priest to a creek, then leave him to enter a nearby village and inform the inquisitors about Rodrigues’ presence. They say I have done a good thing for Japan, that I have brought honor to myself. I do not feel honorable. As they lead Rodrigues away, I am overwhelmed with shame, and cry out for forgiveness, but the priest of God will not look me in the eye, and I know that I am a traitor and a failure. I have sinned against God. But what has God done for us in this nation? What have Rodrigues and the other Jesuits truly brought us? Our Christian faith has only led to suffering. We are forced to choose between our nation and our faith. Of course, there is the promise of hope in Paradise. But can the Gospel of Christ truly be good news for us in Japan when there is so much suffering inflicted upon us? Why is God silent?

I follow the captured priest, still drawn to him out of…fear? Self-loathing? Love? Rodrigues is led before the inquisitor and governor, Inoue, an elderly man with a comical-yet-terrifying approach to this business of eradicating Christianity from our land. I watch the prisoner and the other Christians with him from a distance, like Peter watched Jesus on trial. Rodrigues sometimes appears before Inoue, and their conversations bring a weight to my mind and heart. Again, I beg Rodrigues to hear my confession, to offer forgiveness in the name of God, and he does so with an obvious bitterness. The prisons serve as a temporary parish, a gathering of Christians who are not longer hidden, and Rodrigues is given a strange amount of freedom with us. This all may be a deceitful formality, for when the time comes, the inquisitors bring torture and death to the Japanese Christians. They force Rodrigues to choose: if he will publicly apostatize, the Japanese Christians will no longer be tortured or killed; if he does not, their suffering will only continue. Rodrigues is disallowed from being a martyr. The glory he once believed of his position and mission–his sense of being from above, a posture of vanity–appears to be slowly wearing down into the humble earth of the Japanese soil. A theology of glory, traded for a theology of the cross. I am driven from his presence, having once again stepped on the fumie, an act of betrayal that feels all too familiar by now. Do I even mean this apostasy any more? Does this act affect my eternal salvation? Lord, have mercy!

I cannot say more, for it is not my story to tell. Rodrigues’ original quest to find his mentor, Father Ferreira, comes to a haunting, unexpected end. There are so many questions unanswered by my tale. What is the nature of truth? Where is God in our suffering and pain? Who is in the wrong–the Japanese inquisitors who kill the Christians, or the European Christians who ignore our cultural heritage in the name of conversion and mission? How does the Gospel translate into a culture? Can there be beauty found in pain and suffering? What does it mean to take up one’s cross for Christ? What is the purpose of prayer, especially when it does not seem to alleviate evil or pain in the world? One thing that has been answered for me: God is not silent. Our Lord speaks. He is always present with us, and especially in our suffering. We may trample on his face, and He will continue to be faithful.

***

This review is written in the vein of the spiritual exercise of Ignatian contemplation, using one’s imagination to place oneself in a scene within Scripture. “What do you see? What do you smell? What do you feel?” Father Rodrigues imagines the face of Jesus in various scenes within Silence. I imagined the narrative of Silence through the experience of Kichijiro, the moral and spiritual heartbeat of the film. For I am Kichijiro. I am one who has repeatedly failed, yet one who has been eternally forgiven. A masterpiece of religious cinema, Silence should be considered an act of cinematic Ignatian contemplation, Scorsese’s invitation for audiences to enter into this weighty story of suffering and faith.

IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0490215/

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