Dear Editor: On Sept. 8 at Father Robert Lauder’s Friday Film Festival, I viewed for the first time the movie “Silence,” directed by Martin Scorsese and based on the novel of the same name by Shisaku Endo. By reputation, this was a film masterpiece, and so it proved to be.
Anyone interested in this film will by now be aware that, as in the novel, it tells the story of two young Jesuit priests, Fathers Rodrigues and Garrpe, who set out for Japan in the year 1639 to preach the Gospel, and also in an attempt to locate another Jesuit missionary who preceded them and is rumored to have apostatized under torture.
The two young priests are discovered by the Japanese authorities. Many villagers to whom they minister are tortured and some killed for their faith. Father Garrpe is killed a short time later. The Japanese authorities imprison Father Rodrigues and attempt, through psychological torture, to secure his renunciation of his faith. They eventually succeed by presenting Father Rodrigues with five Japanese screaming in agony as they undergo various horrible tortures, telling him that these victims will be released as soon as he renounces his faith.
The climactic moment of the film arrives when Jesus, the Son of God, appears to Father Rodrigues and urges him to step on the “fumi” – an image of Jesus the trampling of which proclaims the apostasy of the trampler. Jesus says, “It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”
With that message from the Son of God, Father Rodrigues ceases resistance, steps on the fumi, and renounces his faith. The tortured innocents are released, and the will of the torturers is accomplished.
One or two admiring commentators on Scorsese’s film express surprise and disappointment that the film was not a commercial success. One of them wonders, “Could it be that the movie-going audience is not interested in a film about religious faith?”
So in this film the Son of God comes to a devout and desperate young priest who is striving for the strength of a martyr and urges him to step on His image, thereby abasing himself and defiling the image of God. A formerly inspired priest, directed by the Son of God along this path, renounces his faith immediately and permanently, living more than 30 years longer under the protection of the authorities, doing their bidding and stepping on the image of Christ annually thereafter.
Five people’s lives are saved. The will of the torturers is accomplished, and martyred Japanese Christians, who had looked to this man to minister and to strengthen their faith, are betrayed. This at the behest of Jesus, that Jesus who said, “But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly father.”
At the age I have reached, I have lost the sophistication that allows the value of this film as art to overcome this shameful and miserable image of Our Lord.
It should not surprise anyone that the film was not a commercial success. From what I read, the film’s producers were not surprised. People who love their faith, or remember how they once did, want to see it, not evil, triumph. It really is that simple.
“The Last Temptation of Christ” was a commercial failure also, for largely similar reasons.
On the other hand “Passion of the Christ” and “Hacksaw Ridge” were commercial successes, and religious faith had a prominent role in both. I do not think it likely that “the movie-going audience is not interested in a film about religious faith.”
Sands Point, L.I.