Some movies are pure, artistic expressions of the filmmaker’s desire to communicate more than just putting some moving images on a screen.
Other movies are so hard to watch because they challenge you in ways you wished you did not have to answer their challenge.
“Silence” is both of these.
Directed by the great Martin Scorsese, “Silence” taps into his personal wrestling with Christianity and maybe his own sense of call.
Scorsese once aspired to be a Catholic priest. What he presents is a story about the challenge of faith in a place where the Christian faith is not welcome.
What we see is the story of two young priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) who ask for the mission of going to Japan in the 16th century.
They go to find their mentor, Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a missionary for the Jesuits, who reportedly has turned his back on the faith.
Rodrigues and Garupe travel to China to find a way into Japan. It is made known that those who rule Japan do not want Christianity in their country. This makes getting into the country and doing work as a priest a dangerous mission.
Making their way into Japan with the aid of an apostate Japanese Christian called Kichijiro, they get in to the country and must hide because samurai search out those who practice Christianity.
They find their way to a village that is Christian, but it is not too long until they are discovered. They part company; Garupe going one way and Rodrigues another. This comes after they watch three Christians from the village be crucified for their faith.
We follow Rodrigues, who ends up being captured. He is placed in a cell in the midst of a courtyard and watches as the samurai torture Japanese Christians for their faith.
The samurai, who is known as the Inquisitor (Issei Ogata), says, “The price of your glory is their suffering.”
This aspect of the movie makes it so hard to watch. We see people tortured solely because of their faith. And we see the damage it does to the priest who is forced to watch and then told to renounce his faith.
Rodrigues prays constantly. At one point, he declares, “I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to the silence?”
We live in a time when many are making Christian movies. There are dozens that hold out the pedigree of being Christian, and believers flock to them.
“Silence” is probably the most Christian movie I have seen, but I know Christians will not flock to see it. And maybe there is good reason.
This movie, as I noted, is a challenge to watch. What we witness on the screen is physical, emotional and spiritual pain.
But also what we witness is the something Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 1:23 – the stumbling block of the cross. The word there is literally the scandal of the cross.
What Scorsese presents to us is the scandal of Christianity.
In the following of Christ, the priests that went to Japan did so in the belief that they were to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth.
They ventured to a place that rejected their message. But they believed that God was greater than the circumstances they found themselves in.
What they held to was the belief that because God was on their side, they were right and God would act out of that rightness. But God did not.
They were faced with a choice. Do they hold on to their belief or do they shift in their understanding of who they were? Do they allow the suffering of the innocent or do they act in a way that stops that suffering?
The scandal of being Christian that I saw here is that our pride in Christ acts to undermine the love of Christ. It is the love of Christ that must prevail and not our pride.
I cannot recommend you to see this movie. I also cannot tell you not to see it. It will be a personal choice.
But this movie presents a way of following Christ that is not for the faint of heart or for those that want some easy answers. There is no “and they lived happily ever after” here. But that is OK.
The true walk of faith has moments where there are no happy endings. There are moments where we must move from where we are to where we need to be. And that is not easy.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.
MPAA Rating: R for some disturbing violent content
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Martin Scorsese and Jay Cocks, based on the novel of Shusaku Endo
Cast: Andrew Garfield (Rodrigues), Adam Driver (Garupe), Liam Neeson (Ferreria), Issei Ogata (Inquisitor Inoue), Yosuke Kubozuka (Kichijiro).
The movie’s website is here.