I have a confession to make: I am kind of a movie snob.
I love the classic, old movies something mighty fierce. I grew up watching John Wayne westerns and WWII movies with my Dad. I can quote movie lines from classics like On The Waterfront and Casablanca like it is my full-time job.
I love how films have the power to convey deep human truths like courage, hope, strength, beauty, and goodness. Like anything in the world, movies are a way to experience and encounter the lasting truths of our faith.
I recently went and saw the new Scorsese film, Silence. After watching the trailer, different interviews, and reading some good articles, I knew this was a film that caught me eye. I have to admit I was a little uncertain and hesitant in seeing the film. Scorsese is known as a conflicting director when it comes to making movies with spiritual themes. Anybody remember The Last Temptation of Christ? Yeah, not the most theologically accurate movie of all time.
And while the movie didn’t do superbly at the box office and has received criticism from other Catholics, I was pleasantly surprised how much I loved the film.
It is one of the most powerful movies I have seen in a long time.
The movie follows the missionary journey of two 17th century Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield & Adam Driver) traveling from Portugal to Japan to locate their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) and help evangelize and care for the faith of Japanese Catholics.
(Before continuing to read further, note that there will be some movie spoilers included and I don’t want to ruin it for you if you are planning to see the movie.)
You have been warned, friend!
Two things left me thinking deeply as I left the movie theater.
First, I have been pondering the raw honesty with which Scorsese portrayed the faith of the Japanese Christian martyrs. He was very respectful and honored the depth of their faith, but also showed the terrible persecution they faced both in life and often their deaths. For me, it portrayed the reality of Christian martyrdom in powerful way. I kept asking myself afterwards, Could I really do that myself? Would I be able to endure such emotional and physical persecution for my faith in Jesus Christ?
Sure, I like to think I could, but this movie reminded me I cannot really know for certain. Answering the call of martyrdom is not something we plan or prepare ahead of time. It is a special grace in the moment you face it.
Second, I thought this movie beautifully portrayed the spiritual life of a Christian, complete with all the consolations and desolations that come in a personal walk with God. On some level, it was like watching the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius on the screen. Throughout the movie, you follow the spiritual journey of Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield). In the beginning, he is zealous and full of passion to minister and support the suffering Japanese Christians.
As the movie progresses, you see him begin to wrestle more and more in his relationship with Jesus. He questions the silence he feels from God and second guesses himself. He is torn up by the great suffering inflicted on the people he loves and tries to make sense of it in relation to his faith. I found myself deeply moved and drawn into the journey of Father Rodrigues.
In the end, under great emotional distress Father Rodrigues publicly apostatizes his faith. It is devastatingly sad and you feel the great weight of the struggle he is facing. After renouncing his faith, Rodrigues lives in the Japanese culture, practices Buddhism, takes a wife, and removes all public expression of his once deeply-held Christian convictions.
However the final scenes are perhaps some of the powerful in the entire movie. Rodrigues dies and is buried in a traditional Buddhist rite. As his casket is lit on fire, the camera zooms inside to Rodrigues hands where he clutches a small wooden, hand craved crucifix that was given to him by a martyred Christian upon his arrival in Japan. And the film ends.
Even though Rodrigues denounced his faith, I like to believe on a deep level he still had faith. He still loved Jesus Christ. He still believed. In his broken humanity, he fall hard. But even in brokenness, God still passionately loves us.
Those final scenes to me are such a beautiful reminder of what our Christian faith is all about. Our brokenness, our mistakes are not what defines us. For even when we make definitive choices that distance us from God, like Father Rodrigues, God still seeks us. God still wants us with Him. God never gives up on us, even when we give up on Him.
The movie Silence reminds me to not buy lie that God is silent or distant in my suffering. Rather, when He feels distant is when He is closest to me.
Written by Patty Breen. Find out more about her here.