Detail from Fifteen Mysteries of the Virgin Mary, Ibaraki City Museum of Cultural Properties, Ibaraki, Osaka, Japan. Via Wikimedia Commons.
It’s hard to watch Silence, Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited religious epic. It’s hard, first, because of all the torture: torture by crucifixion amidst crashing waves, by being hung upside down with your head in a pit, by boiling water poured, over and over, upon your flesh. But also hard is grappling with a moral dilemma that no longer seems like much of a dilemma: Which would you choose? To deny your faith or to allow innocents to suffer?
Silence, based on the 1966 Shusako Endo novel of the same name, is about two fifteenth- century Portuguese Jesuits, Rodrigues and Garrpe, who travel to Japan to find their mentor, Ferreria, a priest who is rumored to have apostatized. (Ferreria is an actual historical figure, by the way, and Endo was a Japanese Catholic, whose novel is considered one of the finest of the twentieth century, especially well-loved by Catholic intellectuals.) The movie focuses on Rodrigues, and while Scorsese’s film is about many things, it’s primarily about whether Rodrigues should deny Christ for the good of the world.
For a secular audience, and even the modern world’s secularized Christians, the question is hard to fathom. Our modern era has just as many questions about suffering, but they take on different ethical shapes. Should we put limits on immigration, allowing more distant suffering to maintain a particular lifestyle here in the states? Should we donate all the money we can to those who most need it, or should we give to our own communities, or simply our families, or just enjoy it ourselves? And what does need even mean? These are complicated questions, but what’s striking about them is how they’re all ultimately questions about bodies, about a material world and how humans can best exist within it. Continue reading
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