Friday, December 30, 2016

Silence [2016]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Silence [2016] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Martin Scorsese [wikip] [IMDb] along with Jay Cocks based on the book [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Shūsaku Endō [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) gives us a glimpse of the kind of film-making that COULD HAVE BEEN possible if not for the tragic and WILDLY COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE "protests" to Scorsese's screen-adaptation The Last Temptation of Christ [1988] [IMDb] [wikip].

Those protests nearly drove Scorsese to suicide, his abandonment of the current film (which he had already begun work on), and a _stunning_ near TWENTY-FIVE YEAR DROUGHT (an ENTIRE GENERATION...) of serious religious based films by Hollywood-- until the making / critical SUCCESS of Terrence Malick's Tree of Life [2011] breathed new life into the genre.  Talk about "Out of the stump of Jesse ..."

Fascinatingly, the current film is about ... the near expunging of Christianity from a culture -- 17th century Japan -- after a period of (probably to many Viewers and Readers here) surprising success.

The film notes the truth: St. Francis Xavier's mission in Nagasaki produced 300,000 Converts to Christianity in the decades that followed.  But by the time of the story, the Jesuits had been formally expelled from Japan and Christianity was being brutally suppressed.  What happened?

Well PART of what happened is portrayed in this film: The Japanese authorities of the time decided that Christianity was a threat to Japanese identity / the public order and moved, fanatically, to suppress it.

But PART of the reason was ALSO SELF AFFLICTED (by the Catholic Church on itself) ... something, interestingly, NOT SHOWN in the film.  The JESUITS had enormous success in Japan because they had TRIED to adapt themselves to Japanese customs (as had other missionaries in earlier times as well ... St. Augustine of Canterbury famously "blessed the greenery" brought into homes by the still Christianizing Anglo-Saxons of his time from hence we get our Christmas trees... ;-).

In the case of the Jesuits in Japan, they had chosen to dress as per the Japanese custom of the time.  The DOMINICANS (who also headed The Inquisition at the time...) came to INSIST that the JESUITS _in Japan_ dress in conventional ROMAN garb (collars and all...) instead.  The result was that the Jesuits CAUGHT THE ATTENTION / GRATED the famously _xenophobic_ Japanese authorities in a way that they had not before.  Eventually, the Japanese authorities came to see the Christianity brought by the Jesuits as a "foreign cultural invasion" and moved (brutally) to suppress it.  (What I write here, I was taught in Church History course at the Servite Seminary (Mariamum) in Rome in the 1990s as an example of the tragic effects of _choosing_ to disregard local cultural sensitivities while trying to Evangelize / Preach the Gospel even today).

Eventually ...

To SAVE the remnants of their flocks (from certain if excruciatingly slow death) the Jesuit priests THEMSELVES had to _publicly renounce_ their faith AND SOME WERE THEN EVEN PRESSED INTO SERVICE BY THE JAPANESE AUTHORITIES to CENSOR ANYTHING COMING INTO JAPAN FROM THE OUTSIDE for "Christian Messaging" -- so even a Dutch porcelain plate with a little cross motif in the background was "censored" by these captive Jesuit priests as being "too Christian" to be allowed entry into Japan.

For their part, the Japanese Authorities WERE NEVER QUITE SURE that they had succeeded in destroying the Christian Faith in Japan.  (That's what happens when _any_ authority tries to coerce others to behave in one way or other).  So they _repeatedly_ demanded that both the previously baptized Japanese Christians and the formerly Jesuit priests RENOUNCE THEIR FAITH.  And after a while, ALL OBLIGED -- as the alternatives were truly hideous.

Thus, Christianity in Japan was SILENCED ... sort of.
An excellent and deeply prophetic film ... by a director who's long deserved more credit for his faith than he's received.

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