"Silence": And Questions of Faith and Suffering

Note: This post will feature light spoilers.

“Silence,” the latest effort from Martin Scorsese is, first and foremost, a masterpiece. The filmmaker’s incredible skill for mining dramatic character moments is in full display here, as the story follows the story of two Jesuit priests on a mission to Japan. Their job isn’t primarily to share the gospel, but to find and retrieve their mentor, Father Ferreira, who they hear has apostatized from the faith. The film follows the harrowing journey of the two, Father Rodriguez and Gruppe, who find themselves amongst Japanese villagers who follow Christ in secret. 

They worship at night, quietly, to avoid drawing the attention of the Japanese inquisitors, who ruthlessly hunt down Christians and brutally torture and murder them for their faith. Those who were willing to deny their faith in Jesus were compelled to step on a bronze image of the Christ, and to spit on crosses as an act of rejection. This is a fairly common occurence, until the arrival of the priests, whose presence draws the extra attention of the inquisitors. These Christian hunters eventually capture the priests, and punish the villagers mercilessly in front of them. They offered to spare the lives of these Japanese believers, only if the priests apostatize, and deny their Christ. The film depicts in graphic detail the emotional and spiritual struggle that these priests go through. It is a sobering story of the cost of faith, and the suffering that may come from persecution. There is one scene in this film that left me sobbing openly, the powerful images on the screen hitting very, very close to home for me, as a Christian.

Without delving too much more deeply into the plot, however, I wanted to point out some key questions the film asks. At what point should you deny your faith to save your followers/others? Will denying Christ by word not matter, if your heart still believes? Can one be forgiven if he denies Christ?

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In attempting to answer this, I admit to needing so much grace to be able to live this out in my own life. I also need to give the assist to John Piper for this answer, and the double assist to my friend Luke, for sending me this article. Piper addresses the question of “if [you deny Jesus] to save our life, even though we don’t mean it, is it punishable?” He cites Matthew 10 here:

“Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33)

Jesus seems to make it very clear, here. When this situation plays out on film, Scorcese’s use of internal monologue and dialogue really emphasizes what a difficult question this is to answer. Essentially, the Father Rodriguez resists the call to deny Christ; this denial, however, directly correlates with the torture of his fellow Christians, right before his very eyes. They ask, would you not make the sacrifice, and deny your Jesus, to save the lives of your fellow Christians?

What does one do then?

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)

No, it would appear that not even your own flesh and blood is more worthy than Jesus. To deny him may somehow save your earthly life, but would lead an even more fearful spiritual death.

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In the film, there is a villager who denies Christ to save his life, only to repent and ask for forgiveness. But we see in the film that this initial decision to deny Christ follows him for the rest of his days, a never-ending specter that continues to haunt him.

I would propose that a denying of Christ is symptomatic of a heart that is proud. An overwhelming desire to live on, for family, for friends, to accomplish more in the world while alive, is to deny God his mysterious power. It is a self-facing decision: I am too important to die for Christ; I’m too important for my family to lose me. 

Conversely, a life devoted to Christ fully may say this instead: I am not essential; only God can fully take care of my family, can do his work in spite of me and without me.

“Silence” invites viewers to sit closely to the idea of denying one’s faith. It is an utterly uncomfortable experience, by design. It delivers emotional gravitas to the decisions that the characters make. We are left feeling cathartic joy and sheer despondence all at once, as we witness the characters making their choices. I think that Christians who watch this film will not come away from the experience unchanged. I think that “Silence” is one of the most important films about Christianity and faith in a long, long time.

I finally watched "The Godfather"

I’m going to start with a crazy, crazy confession: I had never seen the Godfather, start to finish, before today. Nuts. I had a friend in college who loved the series and would have it on the TV from time to time, but I never was able to sit through the entire thing without nodding off or deciding to make my second packet of instant noodles of the day.

Today, as part of a series of Film Camps my friend Mike and I have been embarking on, I finally was able to view the film from start to finish. Below are a few impressions:

The Earned Beats

Coppola is a master at the craft of cinema. Here, it is eternally evident. There was not a single emotional moment, not a single line of dialogue, not a single murder scene, that did not earn itself. Every character we come across in this film had importance to the plot. The audience is given ample time to understand their motivations, and the reasons they act the way they do. This was a breath of fresh air to me, after a year of blockbusters that had messy plots (Suicide Squad), even murkier character motivations (Batman Vs. Superman), and a lack of earned emotional beats (Midnight Special, the two aforementioned films, and a host of of others, etc. etc. etc.) There isn’t action, for action’s sake, in this film. It is all purposeful. The Godfather is very easily now one of my all-time favorite films because of this.

The Look of the Movie

 I mean look at this shot!

I mean look at this shot!

Oh, that look. That deliciously cinematic look! I watched the Coppola Restoration version of this film on blu-ray, and wow, did it look pretty. The film retains a lot of its natural grain, and the colors and dynamic range of the film footage is gorgeously done. It sends you, delightfully, right back into 1940's New York. Film-shot movies from before the 21st century always, always carry this inherent, whimsical magic to them, and this version of the Godfather charmed this new viewer to no end. I’m fairly certain I audibly gasped once or twice at just how beautiful this thing looked. So enthralled was I, that I just had to look up some background on this particular version and found that these films had been preserved and restored to their original, theatrical versions by film preservationist Robert A. Harris.

“The final product, which the studio is calling “The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration,” combines bits and pieces of film recovered from innumerable sources, scanned at high resolution and then retouched frame by frame to remove dirt and scratches. The color was brought back to its original values by comparing it with first-generation release prints and by extensive consultation with Gordon Willis, who shot all three films, and Allen Daviau, a cinematographer (“E.T.”) who is also a leading historian of photographic technology.”

I am such a NERD about these kinds of things. He had to hunt down tons of different prints of this movie to make this happen? Wow. I wish this much care was demonstrated for all other all-time classic films. This film is a treasure, and this blu-ray release gives the viewer an offer you can't refuse. I’m so glad I have now watched it all the way through.

 

 

Music and the Mysticism of it All

Asian music carries a certain air of mystery and mysticism to it. In my honest opinion, Eastern nations have a steep spiritual history and music has always been a prime means of conveying a certain mood. 
While listening to Sungha Jung play this Korean Traditional, I get whisked into a state of contemplation. It's a modern-ish arrangement, but the spirituality of the melody is haunting all the same.