Friday Night at the Movies: Silence

By

Books like Silence only come around once or twice in a generation. I read it several years ago (my review here), and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Martin Scorsese had a similar experience. He read the book in the ’80s, and it’s haunted him for over thirty years.

When I heard he was adapting it for the screen, I had two thoughts. 1) This book should never be adapted for the screen—it’s too internal, and 2) If anyone’s going to adapt it, Scorsese is the best man for the job.

It’s a story of faith, and doubt, and suffering, in which two Portuguese priests travel to Japan in the 17th century to discover what’s happened to their former mentor amid the mass persecution of Christians taking place in the country. It’s not an easy book to read, and I know it won’t be an easy film to watch. But if the film succeeds at capturing half of the books complexity and thought-provoking questions, it’ll be worth wrestling with.

The film is now showing in wide release, and this Friday we’re encouraging folks to go out and see it. No particular theater. No particular time. No particular city. Just block out a few hours this week to get to the theater and be challenged. And then come back here and let us know what you think. We’d love to host the conversation.

Check out this link for more information about the film and a chance to get some free tickets.

Also check out the two podcasts we did on the book, featuring myself, Thomas McKenzie, Jonathan Rogers, and Makoto Fujimura.

 

Profile photo of Pete Peterson

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


14 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Javen Bear

    Javen Bear

    @javen

    Tonight my friend and I walked out of the theater, got in the car, and drove away before I spoke a single word. Even after Taco Bell on the way home I still hadn’t reached any conclusions. I’m interested to hear opinions and discussion. This is probably the most thought provoking, question raising film I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t give you the same cheap thrill at the end like ‘God’s Not Dead’. There isn’t really a yay-Jesus moment. Maybe I’ll have processed it further by tomorrow. I think I need to read the book.

  2. Profile photo of Jen Rose Yokel

    Jen Rose Yokel

    @jroseyokel

    The book has haunted me since I read it a couple years ago, and the film brought all those same feelings and thoughts back. So beautifully done. I don’t see how it could have been more faithfully and lovingly adapted. I’m grateful there’s this campaign to get more people to see it!

    BTW, this review may be a little spoilery (so read with caution if you haven’t seen the film or read the book), but Alissa Wilkinson did a fantastic writeup at Vox. Y’know, in case everybody needs to process after they get home on Friday night. 🙂

  3. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Love, love, loved this movie. I didn’t think it was adaptable, but I was wrong. It’s a masterpiece of complexity. Uncomfortable, challenging, beautiful. The final image is one of my favorite closing shots ever. And I’m so glad Andrew Garfield moved on from Spiderman. He’s tremendous in this (actually, everyone is).

  4. Jason Custer

    I also loved this movie, and love the book as well. 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 on 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.

    I truly believe this is a movie that every Christian should and needs to watch, 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). I do wonder why there was not more marketing for the movie, but I recognize that this is a difficult film to market. I 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.

    **** Spoilers Ahead ****

    I found it fascinating that my experience of the book and the movie was 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 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 film, or to burst into tears at the 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). 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, 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.”

    The movie never quotes another favorite line of mine from the book, but I think it actually communicates 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. Because he 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. He had to lose his life (being a priest that was faithful to the end) to gain it.

    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, Ends 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” like the podcast mentions (although I agree with the sentiment) – its about Kichijiro, not the Jesuits. I think its about apostatizers, not martyrs or saints. Again, its 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 killer 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, “Ends 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 already way too long of a comment. 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 he the word wasn’t lost to him. I think “trample” carries with it more the shame of doing so than “step.” 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 I think he got the gist of it.) My other slight squabble is that I actually don’t like the very ending, 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, but I’m pretty sure that Ends 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.

    Ok – I’m really stopping now. I will just link to a Facebook post that Makoto Fujimura wrote on Silence that I think is perceptive, especially since he was an advisor to Scorsese on the film: Post on Silence.

    What did other people think of those two scenes? Were they helpful? Who did you identify with? Am I crazy in my interpretation?

  5. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Great thoughts, Jason. Very much in line with mine.

    I had the same mild disappointment that “trample” wasn’t used in that pivotal scene, and especially the entire line “It was to be trampled on by men…” I’d love to hear Scorsese’s thoughts on that change. The scene still worked, though. The other thing about that scene that I missed was that in the book, he goes on hearing the “snoring” and being irritated by it for a long time, so that when the reveal happens, Rodriques failure is thrown into contrast when he learns the source of his irritation should have been the source of his compassion.

    I loved the ending. I think the book gave a lot of subtle hints that Rodriques kept the faith somehow, but those textual hints needed a visual parallel in the film, and I thought that final image was perfect.

    My wife pointed out the chief problem with both the book and the film, and that’s the lack of any real discussion of the Resurrection and how that should inform the problem of suffering and death. It’s peculiar that it’s never addressed by either Endo or Scorsese, especially given how important the Resurrection and New Creation was to the early church and martyrs throughout the ages. Would love to hear others’ thoughts on that omission.

     

  6. Andy Debruhl

    I love hearing everyone’s thoughts here.  I personally think this may be Scorsese’s best work.  Pete, I agree with you that the final shot is probably one of the best closing shots ever.  When the credits appeared it was silent in the theater, I am sure that was the hoped for response.

    A few things stood out to me.

    Did anyone feel that Rodrigues ride into the final village alluded to Christ’s triumphal entry?  Though a bit inverted.  I certainly felt that way during that scene.
    When Rodrigues finally gave in and the rooster crowed in the background, I felt shivers down my spine.
    When Rodrigues and Ferreira finally meet, as they were talking and discussing what happened, the scene put me on the edge of my seat, proving that in the hands of the right director with the right script and the right actors one doesn’t need pyrotechnics and explosions to elicit that response.  Powerful powerful scene that was for me.

  7. Profile photo of Dawn Waters Baker

    Dawn Waters Baker

    @dwbaker

    I loved the movie, book and Mako’s Silence and Beauty. I read Mako’s first then Endo then the movie. Not saying that’s the order you have to do it but it helped me a great deal.

    Pete, I like the wording, “step” and maybe because I don’t believe that Rodriguez ever trampled on Christ. The word Trample means to tread on and crush. I think, in a way, that Scorsese is saying that Christ can’t ever be trampled on in the sense of crushing out of existence. He can be stepped on, walked over, abused and deformed as the Fumi-e’s are wiped of facial features over time because of the stepping. But they can’t be crushed. Interesting to me to remember that it is Satan who will be ultimately crushed.

    Tim Basselin (prof. of Media, Arts and Worship) said something interesting in a podcast about Silence, he brought up the point that Rodriguez was not apostatizing against his Christianity but the Catholic church. He let himself become an “average” person (wife, child etc). It made me think how many of us are willing to let go of our religion for something much more humbling and deep?

    I wrote a little about it on my blog (I won’t post it here) but I thought there were a few things that came out to me. One was shame. That we live in a shame culture where likes and dislikes rule the day. We are not so different from the Asian mindset of shame after all. The Japanese devised a way to use shame to stop the spread of the gospel. But Hebrews 12:1-2 says:
    “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (emphasis mine)

    I remember the first time I saw an actual painting of Jesus on the cross naked. I was so shocked. I thought, “oh. Jesus.” My heart broke as my eyes couldn’t bear it. John Piper says, “…His reputation gave way in shaming mockery; His decency gave way in shaming nakedness; His comfort gave way in shaming torture. His glorious dignity gave way to the utterly undignified degrading reflexes of grunting, groaning and screeching…”

    Mako says that todays’ Christianity likes to dwell a great deal on the resurrection but not the cross…the part of the story that is brutal, bleak and ugly. I would caveat it to say that this forum isn’t like that (as you all write stories very real and relevant).

    One of the things that stood out to me was the use of mist in the film. The mist seemed to be it’s own character. I noticed it in the novel but, of course, visually it was just stunning. There were moments when the mist hid the priests and saved their lives. There were moments of deep spiritual clarity that came and went with the lifting of the mist. There was a deep thirst for the spiritual throughout the film and yet this heavy, thick mist (full of water of course). As if God was right there, waiting. It reminded me of the scripture where God is always covered in cloud/mist/smoke.

    Thanks for posting about it and for all your wonderful thoughts on here. I so enjoy reading them.

  8. Matthew Aughtry

    Hi friends, I wanted to leave this add this to the conversation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w6bIgcgCOc. It was put together by some dear friends at Fuller Seminary/The Brehm Center.

  9. Matthew Aughtry

    Hi friends, I just wanted to add this to the conversation: 

    . It was put together by some dear friends at Fuller Seminary/Brehm Center (many of the same folks behind the Bono/Eugene Peterson video).

  10. Jason Custer

    Well, I will definitely have to re-watch the ending since everyone else loved it so much. I’ll admit that I think I read through the epilogue of the book pretty quickly, so I don’t actually recall everything in it and that may influence my opinion a bit.

    Pete, I also was a bit surprised that the snoring scene seemed rushed a bit. To your question on the resurrection, I actually appreciated that it wasn’t mentioned too much – which sort of goes hand in hand with my desire for more ambiguity at the end of the movie. While I think we often have differing problems at differing times of focusing too much on Good Friday and the cross or the opposite extreme of focusing too much on Easter Sunday and the resurrection, we hardly ever spend time focusing on Holy Saturday. We don’t like tension or ambiguity, so we jump too fast to Sunday, to the resurrection. Mako pointed this out in to me in Silence and Beauty: “The book is about the movement of our souls into Holy Saturday, waiting for Easter Sunday. Endo, in many respects, is a Holy Saturday author describing the darkness of waiting for Easter light to break into our world” (p. 28). I think we need more authors in Christianity that are willing to sit in the darkness, in the silence of God, without jumping to a resolution too fast – because those people don’t feel the resolution often.

    Andy, I don’t explicitly remember the riding scene, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Scorsese was trying to allude to the Triumphal Entry in an inverted way. Great observation.

    Dawn, I love your observation that Rodrigues became an “average” person. I think that is spot on – he finally was willing to humble himself to be “normal” instead of a martyr or saint with all the glory that comes with that for a priest/missionary. That especially speaks to me since I am looking to pastor, and there is a prideful tendency to think that my vocation makes me a super-Christian who really is better than everyone else because of being ordained or having gone to seminary. Endo/Scorsese are asking if I am willing to be “average” instead of special – to be an “ordinary” Christian and live and work in ordinary time. That is a challenge I need. There is a subtle religious pride that can be taken for “being faithful.”

    I think of another of my favorite lines from Flannery O’Connor from her short story, Revelation. She is picturing heaven opened in the sky and at the front of a procession are all the lower-class of society who are all singing off key like animals, but at the back were “a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who…had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right…They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.” I love that last line, and since I tend to place myself with the dignified, I need my “virtues” to be burned away. Perhaps Rodrigues in trampling on the fumi-e had his virtues burned away, and even needed to lose his place as a priest to become an “average” person in order to truly see Christ as he is and love him.

  11. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Love that parallel with O’Connor. Great observation.

    And to be clear, I’m not suggesting that Endo or Scorsese did something wrong by leaving out a discussion of resurrection. I’m just noting its absence and wondering, and I think you hit the nail on the head with the Holy Saturday notion. Works like Silence are so refreshing partly because they are so rare and so brave in leaving us to ponder the uncomfortable.

  12. Roy Roper

    After seeing the preview months ago and hearing all of the acclaim, my wife and I were very excited to see this movie. It began much as expected—with many scenes from the previews setting up the story quite quickly. I was prepared to watch brutal examples of torture and killings of martyrs—courageously willing to die for their faith. And I loved the authentic portrayal of both the physical struggles and the spiritual struggles of the Jesuit missionaries who were in a strange land, hostile to their faith. That was all beautifully portrayed.

    But about 2/3 of the way in, it got monotonous and frustrating. That seemed somewhat fitting, though… until the much-awaited Ferreira came on-screen and delivered his passionless plea for Rodrigues to join him in his apostasy. Watching Rodrigues surrender all he’d journeyed so long and fought so hard to defend—choosing to save the lives of a few Christians while betraying the faith of all of them—was gut-wrenching. As the two men aged through the rapid story-telling, I still hoped for some redemption…but all that was offered were a couple of hints that they hadn’t tossed their faith away completely, but—even worse, I’d say—they went on to live a lie for decades, betraying their own hearts (and the lives of countless believers) to save their own skins.

    I appreciate a movie that portrays authentic life, and I have no interest in a movie that has its head in the clouds of ideals and platitudes and never plants its feet on the grounds of reality. I can’t fault this movie along those lines, and it does bring up some great points of discussion. I greatly appreciated the first 2/3 of the movie and kind of understand what many fellow believers see it in. However, a movie isn’t worth my time unless it portrays redemption and/or points to some ideal that rises above the sin and suffering of a broken world and says, “Yes, there is a greater purpose that brings good from the evil… a right that prevails and for which is worth sacrificing!” It is on this point that the movie seemed to me to fail miserably. It more closely resembled Martin Scorsese’s previous work, The Last Temptation of Christ, which reveled in the doubt and sin of man (even our Savior) in fantasy and falsehood—in contrast to the Passion of the Christ, which exemplified faith and sacrifice in authentic reality, pointing to a glory and reward that rose above the filth and injustice of this life.

    This review sums up my thoughts best: http://www.christianpost.com/news/christians-praising-scorsese-silence-movie-review-172951/ Here is how Julie Roys ends her analysis:
    “To my eyes, though, all Silence portrays is weakness. There is no triumph because triumph comes in enduring to the end. Jesus would not have triumphed had he gotten off the cross, knowing that his death and resurrection would eventually lead to the brutal execution of all but one of his apostles.
    “Jesus triumphed because he didn’t focus on the suffering. Instead, Hebrews 12 says, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame. . .” Similarly, Hebrews urges us: ‘Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’
    “Though Silence is dedicated to ‘Japanese Christians and their pastors,’ many Catholic churches in Japan actually banned the novel, Silence. The author Endo even reportedly lost a close friend, a French priest, due to the book’s publication. Though I don’t support book banning, I certainly can understand why the church and a priest would have that reaction.
    “I don’t think Silence presents a helpful spiritual message, but a potentially harmful one. Yes, it has redeeming qualities. And yes, the questions it raises are worth considering — but in the right context and among believers mature enough to handle its problematic themes. But as a feature film, it’s pretty depressing and potentially disillusioning. Rather than exaltation, it features capitulation. And rather than inspiring, it simply deflates and confuses.”

  13. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Roy,

    I appreciate your thoughts. It’s certainly a challenging movie. You might want to read through the thoughts in the comments on this post in which I asked some similar questions: http://rabbitroom.com/2017/01/what-i-didnt-hear-in-silence/

    Ultimately, I think the film is a stunning picture of grace and the efficacy of Christ, and therefore incredibly redemptive in its implications. One of the most important functions of art is to pose questions and point toward possible answers, and Silence is a shining example of that.

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *