I will say without reservation that Silence has already become one of my favorite movies, and is likely to remain in that position for a long time (right behind Calvary – which is amazing). Part of this is because it magnificently adapts Shusaku Endo’s book, Silence – which has become one of my favorite novels of all times. Honestly, though, this is one of the first times I’ve loved a book and its movie adaptation for different reasons – they each have nuances that I feel only their respective mediums can convey. I found the movie incredibly powerful and moving, to the point where when I finished seeing it with my brother last Thursday night, we both felt like we couldn’t do justice to the film by talking about our thoughts until we’d mulled it over for some time. The acting was phenomenal across the board (even when I was worried I’d only be able to see Adam Driver as Kylo Ren and Andrew Garfield as Spiderman). The cinematography was exquisite. I think Scorsese did a wonderful job, and I love that even my brother could enjoy the movie and experience it like I did even though he hadn’t read the book.
If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly encourage you to go and do so now – it may not be in theaters much longer (I know it is in Midland/Odessa theaters until this Thursday, at least). I honestly believe this is a movie that every Christian should and needs to watch (I’m not exaggerating here), although I’m saddened by the fact that this is very unlikely (I think the same thing about Endo’s book, but people are probably more likely to watch a movie than slog through a book like Silence). Unfortunately, not many people have heard about Silence, and wonder why there was not more marketing for the movie, but I recognize that this is a difficult film to market. I also wish it would get more critical awards, but then I’m not surprised or worried that it hasn’t since many lasting works of art are never initially received favorably. I truly think this film will become a classic and stand the test of time.
I hesitate to say anything more than this since I feel I need to re-read the book, then re-watch the movie before I can comment too much, but I also very much want to discuss and hear other people’s impression of the work while it’s fresh on my mind. I’ve talked to several people locally about it, but I’d be curious to hear the thoughts and impressions of those who don’t live near me. So I want to share my own thoughts about the book/film and hopefully start a discussion in the comments about the content and message of Silence. If you have read the book or seen the film – please share your thoughts below – I’d love to hear what other people thought (whether you loved it, hated it, or were indifferent).
Disclaimer: The rest of this post is primarily written for those who have either read the book or watched the movie. You don’t necessarily have to have read/watched both to understand what I’m talking about – the film is faithful to the book, so either one will do, but I will be speaking about the differences between the two and mentioning specific scenes and specific quotes. If you know nothing about Silence, you are welcome to read on, but I am not going to take the time to give an overview of the story and will talk about pivotal scenes/quotes, so you may be lost and I may ruin the movie/book for you.
I found it fascinating that my experience of the book and my experience of the movie were very different, and I got something different out of each. When I read the book, I identified with Rodrigues and his deep wrestling with the “silence of God.” This is largely because of my own experience of God’s silence in what I consider my Dark Night of the Soul. I’ve written more about that in my blog post The Dark Night of the Soul, but essentially I was on the road to being a pastor when all of a sudden in my final year of seminary God became silent and my spiritual life went dark. I took a year off seminary and wrestled with God’s silence for some time. How could I honestly be a pastor when I felt sharply the absence and silence of God in my life? Eventually, several books started to give me language for what I was experiencing – one of those was Endo’s Silence. I read it about a year and a half ago. I relished the fact that Rodrigues dealt so honestly and bluntly with the silence of God in his ministry, because I was feeling the exact same thing. I devoured the book, and the climax for me was when the fumi-e, or Christ, speaks to Rodrigues: “Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.” At that point I just put the book down and wept, for the first time in a while. I re-read that section dozens of times, because it spoke so powerfully to me.
So when I went to watch Scorsese’s Silence, I was so worried that he wouldn’t do justice to that scene that I loved so much and was so personal to me during my dark night. I had actually seen the earlier 1971 movie adaption of Silence, and was so disappointed in the way it handled everything. I was fully ready and expecting to be either very angry with the new film, or to burst into tears at that scene – the whole time waiting with baited breath for how Scorsese would depict that pivotal moment. I was surprised to find that most of the lines about God’s silence didn’t move me as much as I expected. I didn’t really identify with Rodrigues as much as I watched. The times that I began to cry were most of the scenes with Kichijiro – and I found myself drawn to his character, and very much saw myself in him in every scene. To the point where when the climactic scene where the fume-e (Christ) speaks, I almost felt nothing. For me, this time, the climax of the movie was actually later on in the epilogue, in that beautiful scene when Rodrigues and Kichijiro touch heads and the last lines from the book are read: “Our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of him.”
What I took away from the film this time was the contrast between Rodrigues and Kichijiro. Rodrigues appears to be Christ (and thinks of himself in that way), while Kichijiro appears to be Judas (as Rodrigues thinks of him) – notice how even in the photo above Rodrigues is sitting above Kichijiro, looking down on him. The film makes me see myself more as Kichijiro than Rodrigues. But it actually shows me that I think I am Rodrigues – the savior to unworthy people. While Rodrigues is in prison in the latter part of the movie, he says “I’m afraid I’m not worthy of you Lord” – which is absolutely true – none of us are worthy of Christ in and of ourselves – but he doesn’t realize it at the time. Most of the film he thinks he’s better than Kichijiro – that he’s worthy because he’s never apostatized. He sees himself as Jesus, or at least worthy of Jesus. As the Inquisitor says quickly, the story is about a prideful man who can’t see that he cares more about himself and his glory than he does about Japan and unworthy people like Kichijiro. I’m pretty sure Rodrigues quotes the line from the book: “Christ did not die for the good and beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt.” The irony is that he thinks he’s “the good and beautiful” while most of the Japanese are “the miserable and corrupt” – especially Kichijiro.
The movie never quotes another favorite line of mine from the book that a friend pointed out to me, but I think it actually communicates the gist of it without having to specifically quote it. The line is: “Sin, he reflected, is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind.” It seems to me that the movie is subtly communicating that Rodrigues, in his own quest to be Christ – to be a martyr and saint, is actually trampling on the Japanese people and he doesn’t even know it. He’s so focused on being “faithful” that he is blind to the pain he causes – as the Inquisitor says to him, “The price of your glory is their suffering.” Because Rodrigues won’t trample on Christ (the fume-e) in his sort of hidden religious pride as a priest, he tramples on the people he thinks he’s come to save. That’s why the line the only line from Christ is so powerful when he says, ““Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.” That’s why Ferreira says before Rodrigues tramples that “you are now going to perform the most painful act of love that has ever been performed.” He’s trampling on the face he loves so much, but that is what Jesus came for. And in trampling, in apostatizing, I think Rodrigues is actually saved – saved from his own self-righteousness and “religion,” if you will. He had to lose his life (being known as a priest that was faithful to the end) to gain true life in Christ.
I think this message is so needed in our Christian culture today – especially in America. We think we are saviors in our morality and self-righteousness. We even trap it in the garbs of Christianity and Christian love for the “miserable and corrupt” – but we are really trampling on the people we think we are saving. We are ironically trampling on Christ (“the least of these”) when we arrogantly try to avoid apostatizing and trampling on the fumi-e (which we think is Christ). To quote what I’ve heard Andy Crouch say, we think we are so good in saving the needy, but we are really just replacing malevolent gods with benevolent gods – ourselves. We arrogantly think we are worthy of Christ – that we’re “good men” like Flannery O’Connor’s grandma. I forget who says it in the movie, but there is a line where someone says to Rodrigues, “they are not suffering for Christ, they are suffering for you.” Like Flannery’s Misfit in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Endo and Scorsese put many of the best lines of truth in the mouths of “the bad man” like the Inquisitor or the Japanese interpreter. What Rodrigues says for most of the movie seems the most spiritual and Christian, but he’s got it all wrong (until the end, I think). It really is done so beautifully that I need to go back and rewatch the film and reread the book to catch all the nuances.
I think very much the film and book are about wretches, not saints. This is so needed in a Christian culture that often praises saints and martyrs and makes them almost better than they really were. I’m not even sure if the film/movie is about “martyrs but not saints” – it is about Kichijiro, not the Jesuits. I think its about apostatizers, not martyrs or saints. It is about people like Flannery O’Connor’s character in “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” – “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.” That’s Kichijiro – but he’s never killed quick, so he has to live with his shame as a wretch. But he keeps coming back to Christ. As Makoto Fujimura says in his book, Beauty and Silence, “Endo stands with those sitting in the pews who feel inadequate and uncertain, who doubt whether they can be strong, heroic and faith-filled.” Silence is about the failures, not the successes. We so need that in a culture prone to celebrate success and denounce failure.
I could write more, but this is enough to start a discussion. I will just say that there are two things in the movie I wish Scorsese had done differently. In the scene where Christ speaks and Rodrigues steps on the fumi-e, Scorsese has Christ say “Step!” instead of “Trample!” I don’t understand why he did that. Earlier in the film Rodrigues says “Trample! Trample!” to the Japanese Christians, so the word wasn’t lost to him. I think “trample” carries with it more the shame of doing so than “step,” so I prefer that word in light of my interpretation. But perhaps that is just me personally – so I’m willing to trust that Scorsese had a reason for phrasing it like he did (although I do wish he’d added the line: “it was to be trampled by men that I came into the world.” at least – although, again, I think he got the gist of it.) My other slight squabble is that I actually didn’t like the very ending scene, where the crucifix is seen in Rodrigues’ hand. I’m surprised that Scorsese resolved the tension in that way, and with the voice over at the end. I don’t recall exactly everything in the book’s epilogue since I focused on the climactic scene, but I’m pretty sure that Endo doesn’t resolve the tension like that. I would have preferred that it stayed ambiguous as to whether or not he “kept the faith” like we tend to think of it. I think the scene with Kichijiro and Rodrigues touching heads would have been a beautiful place to end the film. But again, I don’t think it ruins the film by any means, and am willing to trust Scorsese’s choice there.
What did other people think of those two scenes? Were they helpful?
Who did you identify with as you read the book or watched the movie?
Am I crazy in my interpretation?
What did you feel was the message of the book/movie?
What other things did you love/hate about Silence?