Why Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ Pushes Dissidence and Heresy

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Here is my reflection on why the movie Silence (2016) pushes dissidence and apostasy.

I should start by saying that I have not watched the movie (for obvious reasons). However I have read the synopsis and movie reviews about the film from Catholic sources. I should also acknowledge that there is nothing in of itself dissident or heretical about making movies which show the reality of persecution and the level of suffering and torture that Catholic martyrs and missionaries went through. Nor is it likewise dissident or heretical to even portray the weakness and frailty of human nature in such circumstances.

The morality of a movie however depends on the way that such things are portrayed. This is most definitely true in regards to the plot, the ending, and the moral implications that the movie is trying to give. In the case of this movie it seems quite obvious that the filmmakers are purposely being heretical and dissident.

The movie starts with the acknowledgement that a Catholic religious order superior had apostatized from the faith. If the movie’s plot and ending would have been something along the lines of the superior repenting and making amends for his action, his priestly companions being instrumental in the reversion of their superior to the faith, or even simply his priestly companions showing the contrary example of total witness to Christ in the face of terrible persecution, or something along those lines then that would be good and would cancel any dissident element. But as we see in the movie the opposite happens.

The synopsis states that Father Sebastião Rodrigues in one point in the movie starts wandering around Goto, in which he struggles over whether it is self-centered and unmerciful to refuse to recant when doing so will end other’s suffering.” The synopsis doesn’t answer what conclusion he came to, but his conduct later in the movie answers that question for you; in which hearing five Christians being tortured, looks upon a fumi-e, in which he is given permission by Christ to step on it and so he does.”

This type of philosophical speculation and personal conclusion is based on utilitarian arguments which the Church has always rejected, due to its immoral implications. Utilitarianism is the belief that the goodness of an action is measured by its relative level of benefit to society. In other words goodness is measured by the benefit that it gives the majority of people. The more that people benefit in society, the more good the action. This is contrary to Catholic morality which states that there are moral absolutes that are true regardless of the circumstance. Abortion is sinful regardless of the circumstance. Self-abuse (masturbation), murder, apostatizing, etc.., are all examples of these moral absolutes.

This obviously does not mean that there are circumstances which can diminish sin or at least make it more understandable, but they do not justify an action which is by its nature immoral! Furthermore Catholic morality states that you can never do evil that good may come from it (which also has utilitarian implications).
Furthermore Christ would never tell someone to apostatize regardless of the circumstance. Christ being merciful might completely understand the hardships that come upon being persecuted, and even more so tortured, but he would never outright tell someone to do something that is evil by its nature. He would never justify an immoral action, nor encourage people to do evil that good may come from it.

Another dissident aspect is in the way that the movie finishes. There are two dissident aspects that make up the final scenes in the movie. These two scenes that I have in mind is in regards to the fact that Father Rodrigues has left the priesthood and is now married. He has taken a new identity and is living his own life. The other aspect about the movie is that when he dies he is cremated.
Obviously as of now the Church allows people to be cremated for financial reasons, but this has been a relatively new dispensation that the Church has granted. This was not so in the time that the movie takes place. I am sure the directors would have known about this, or at least should have known.

The fact that Father Rodrigues allows his body to be cremated is very problematic as he would have known that this was strictly prohibited. There are two dissident aspects that make up the final scenes in the movie. It is very problematic that the movie finishes in this way because it gives us entrance into the mind of the filmmakers. Like I mentioned above, the plot, and the ending are great tools which allow us to understand the motives behind the filmmakers.

Another subtle heretical scene in the movie is that one in which Father Sebastio Rodrigues meets his superior, Father Cristovao Ferreira in a Buddhist temple. Father Ferreira, whom had apostatized, tells Father Rodrigues that Christianity is a lost-cause in Japan and that he now understands the significance of religion and of finding God. He tells Father Rodrigues that it is found in Japan’s native indigenous beliefs, which is mostly in Buddhist belief.
There are obvious heretical and dissident aspects about this. Namely the fact that Christianity is not based on popular opinion. It is based on Divine Revelation, which God himself has revealed to His Church. It doesn’t matter how many people believe in Christ, or reject him, it doesn’t change this reality. Nor would it be correct to say that religious truth, and salvation could be found outside of the Church, as Father Ferreira implies by his answer regarding Buddhism.

From my knowledge it does not seem that Father Rodrigues approved of this behavior or of his superior’s statements, so I can’t say that this scene is in of itself a dissent aspect, but I just wanted to point out why this would be so. This obviously would depend on the intention of the filmmakers.

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1 reply »

  1. You must see the movie, even if you don’t want to for obvious reasons. Even though the apostasy is heartbreaking, it doesn’t take away from those who died for their faith. The example of the martyrs was extremely inspiring and made the apostasy look like a slap in the face to the faithful. The movie did not glorify apostasy but did the opposite. Also, the cock crowed three times after the Fr. Rodrigues apostatizes indicating that he betrayed Christ. Your really must see it.

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