seen @ AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, New York NY
The day I left my apartment to go see Silence, a woman got on the elevator with me. I had never seen her before. It was a cold day, and we were both bundled up pretty good. For no reason I can think of, she said, "It can't be too bad out there." I shook my head, agreeing with her, not wanting to get into an idle chat about the weather. Then she said something like, "Jesus never gives us more than we can handle," which led to a few more statements about how Jesus is great and so forth.
She looked at me as if expecting me to agree, but of course I would do no such thing. I said nothing. Too many times in the past, I had let myself get drawn into theological debates with Jesus freaks. They always end up the same way; at an impasse. The worst part is, I didn't say or do anything that would prompt her to start proselytizing. Then again, people like her rarely need a reason.
Near the subway, there were more like her. Most of the time, the religious types I see in this part of town fall into one of three categories: the loud, militant black Jews; the quieter, yet ubiquitous Jehovah's Witnesses; and the solitary, fire-and-brimstone Bible-thumpers. This fourth group appears every now and then. They set up booths called "prayer stations," they dress in bright red vests, and almost without exception, they're white. The sight of them in a black neighborhood gives off an impression not unlike that of 19th-century missionaries in Africa, saving the heathen darkies for Jesus while bringing malaria and other brand new diseases.
I realize these people see it as their duty, their holy calling, to spread the word of God. In a fair world, they would realize not everyone is interested in what they have to say; that some people would not only prefer to be left alone by them, but their very presence is resented. As long as these people believe they're "right" and everyone else is "wrong," however, they're not likely to change.
It was in such a frame of mind that I saw Martin Scorsese's new movie, which I went into completely ignorant of what it was about. I had decided I'd pick one movie this season which I'd see with no advance knowledge. I chose Silence. All I knew was Scorsese had made it, which is certainly enough of an enticement on its own. Whatever he makes is almost always worth a look.
So imagine my surprise when I realized the film continued the thematic path I seemed to be on that day. Andrew Garfield is a 17th-century Portuguese priest. He and fellow priest Adam Driver travel to Japan to search for their missing mentor, Liam Neeson, who has appeared to have turned on the faith. They encounter a number of converted natives, but they also get heavy resistance to Catholicism, and they suffer persecution for their faith.
It was difficult for me to sympathize with Garfield's character. I probably wouldn't have in other circumstances, but because of the woman in the elevator, I was even more predisposed to not care too much whether or not Garfield found other Catholics in Japan. Nothing justifies the violence inflicted on him and others like him, but I found myself understanding, at least, why it happened. Indeed, Garfield struck me as incredibly naïve to the reality of his surroundings. Neeson sets Garfield straight once they meet, and soon he's faced with the same choice Neeson faced.
Absolution is a recurring theme in the movie. One character sees the act as a kind of Get Out of Jail Free Card: yes, he did this bad thing, but if Garfield forgives him, he figures, everything will be okay. Then he does the bad thing again and restarts the cycle. If the concept of sin hadn't been introduced to his culture to begin with - something they never asked for - chances are he might not have suffered as much as he does throughout the movie, but no one brings that up.
I still found Silence thought-provoking. I could see why the director of The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun would be drawn to this material, based on a novel Scorsese had been wanting to adapt ever since he made Temptation.
If I had known all about Silence beforehand, would I have gone to see it when I did? Eh... maybe not. I might have taken my time, gone to see other movies first, maybe even waited to see if it got any Oscar love (it probably will). Scorsese's name alone was enough to get me to see this movie. That's a powerful thing. It shouldn't be taken for granted.