Set in 17th century Japan, the film “Silence” revolves around the lives and struggles of Portuguese Jesuit missionaries. It is chock full of stars such as Andrew Garfield (“Amazing Spiderman”), Adam Drive (“Star Wars: the Force Awakens”) and Liam Neeson (“Shindler’s List, “Star Wars: the Phantom Menace”). The movie was released on December 23 in the US.
The drama begins with the rumors that Fr. Cristóvão Ferreira (Neeson) has renounced his faith after being tortured by a regime persecuting Christians. Two other Jesuit missionaries (Garfield and Driver) accept to the task to go and find out the truth.
While at the heart of it all is the drama of faith, don’t expect much-romanticized piety here. The trailer is “ominous”, full of violence, persecution, and execution. The movie details, for example, how “mizuharitsuke” is done- also called water crucifixion, it is a form of Japanese torture.
It is directed by Oscar-winning Martin Scorsese who struggled for over 27 years to overcome an almost unlimited number of obstacles for its production. The movie cost $46.5 million to realize. According to VanityFair, Scorsese waived his usual director fees and Garfield, Neeson, and Drive also worked for “scaled” fees, o]=-098uytr their records of box-office success.
More than one of Scorsese’s pictures have been controversial (The Last Temptation of Christ, for example). The inner struggle between the act of doubt and the act of faith, between dogma and it’s expression, between universal truths and diverse societies, between the spirit and the flesh, seem to be on his mind and in his heart. So, leaving whether we will totally agree or like the message that he leaves us with at the end aside, I have little doubt that in a time like ours, it will be a good opportunity to reflect upon many of the challenges that we all face.
Meeting Pope Francis
In light of the controversy surrounding many of Scorsese’s past films, as well as the plot of “Silence”, many Catholics have been wondering what the Vatican’s response to the movie would be. In this video, Scorsese shares that Pope Francis hopes to see many fruits coming from the project.
The Novel behind the Movie
The movie is based on the novel “Silence” by Shusako Endo. The titles aside, all that follows are excerpts from a report done by the New York Times:
Shusako was “a Japanese convert steeped in European literature and the history of Catholicism in Japan. Published in Japan in 1966, “Silence” sold 800,000 copies, a huge number in that country. Endo was called “the Japanese Graham Greene” and was considered for the Nobel Prize. Greene referred to “Silence” as “one of the finest novels of our time.”
“The Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier brought Catholicism to Japan in 1549. In the next century, it was suppressed through the torture of missionaries and their followers, who were forced to apostatize by stepping on the fumie— a piece of copper impressed with an image of Christ. In “Silence,” Endo took the missionaries’ point of view, casting much of the novel in the form of letters by Rodrigues reporting back to his superior. He goes to Japan with another young priest, Francisco Garrpe, vowing to seek the truth about their mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira, but they are captured and shown the dogma-defying reality of human suffering under torture. The shogunate invites the Japanese converts to avoid torture by stepping on the fumie. Many do; some are tortured anyway. Rodrigues sees converts crucified, burned alive, drowned. A magistrate fluent in Christianity makes a grim proposal: Rodrigues can save the lives of the converts under torture if only he will step on the fumie and apostatize.
When Scorsese returned from Japan, he procured the film rights to “Silence.” As the years passed, hardly a day went by without his mentioning the project to the people around him: actors, friends and even his old parish priest, Father Principe. As he made “The Aviator” and “The Departed,” “Shutter Island” and “Hugo,” he insisted that “Silence” was the picture he really wanted to make. A Jesuit was elected pope; Islamic terrorists began targeting Christians in the Middle East. In 2014, with “The Wolf of Wall Street” a hit, Scorsese declared that “Silence” would be his next picture: He wouldn’t commit to another until it was finished. Twenty-six years in, filming began.”
Scorsese Wanted to be a Missionary
“It goes back to what Father Principe was telling me the last time I saw him, a couple of years ago,” he said. “Failing, doing something that is morally reprehensible, that is a great sin — well, many people will never come back from that. But the Christian way would be to get up and try again. Maybe not consciously, but you get yourself into a situation where you can make another choice. And that’s the situation Rodrigues is in” — he can choose to save the lives of others by renouncing his faith, the act he considers most reprehensible of all.
“Silence,” no less than Scorsese’s informal New York trilogy — “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” — is rooted in his childhood. As a boy in Little Italy, he wanted to be a missionary. His parents were not religious, in part because their parents had felt the church’s heavy hand in Sicily, but for him the church — a malign force in so many coming-of-age stories — was a portal to the world beyond family and neighborhood. “I trusted the church, because it made sense, what they preached, what they taught,” he said. “I understood that there’s another way to think, outside the closed, hidden, frightened, tough world I grew up in.”
Andrew Garfield Goes On Retreat to Prepare
“Garfield, known for his role in two “Spider-Man” movies, prepared to play Father Rodrigues by entering fully into the process that Jesuits call “spiritual direction.” Raised outside London, with a secular Jewish father, Garfield developed his character by undergoing the “Spiritual Exercises” of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. The exercises, devised in the 1520s, invite the “exercitant” to use his imagination to place himself in the company of Jesus, at the foot of the cross, among tormented souls in hell. Garfield met with Martin for spiritual direction, and they swapped reflections via email and Skype. Then he set out for St. Beuno’s, a Jesuit house in Wales, to undertake a seven-day silent retreat.
“If I’d had 10 years, it wouldn’t have been enough to prepare for this role,” Garfield told me. “I got totally swept up in all things Jesuit and very taken with Jesuit spirituality. The preparation went on for nearly a year, and by the time we got to Taiwan, it was bursting out of me.”
It’s not unusual for performers to allude vaguely to their spirituality. But Garfield describes the process with guileless specificity. “On retreat, you enter into your imagination to accompany Jesus through his life from his conception to his crucifixion and resurrection. You are walking, talking, praying with Jesus, suffering with him. And it’s devastating to see someone who has been your friend, whom you love, be so brutalized.” Before Garfield left for Taiwan, Martin gave him a cross he had received as a gift while a Jesuit novice.
“Andrew got to the point where he could out-Jesuit a Jesuit,” Martin told me. “There were places in the script where he would stop and say, ‘A Jesuit wouldn’t say that,’ and we would come up with something else.”
“I don’t think I am called to be a priest,” Garfield said to me resolutely, as if making this film had spurred him to consider the prospect. “But I had the feeling that I was being called to something: called to work with one of the great directors, and called to this role as something I had to pursue for my spiritual development.”
For more, I highly recommend you take a look at the full report by NYTimes.
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