Now I like to see a group of plucky rebels steal the plans for a Death Star and blow it up in spectacular fashion as much as the next guy, but just how many times can that plot contrivance be dug up and re-packaged and facilitate a weekend box office the size of the Gross Domestic Product of Liechtenstein? Obviously movie audiences have yet to give us that answer.
Martin Scorsese has never made a movie about a superhero, a death star, or a film relying on any particularly complex motion picture special effect other than squibs and fake blood. His milieu has always been the underbelly of human existence - Gangsters, hoods and men and women with darkness and excessive amounts of violence in their souls. Personally I have never been a big fan of the world as a giant cesspool template, but you cannot accuse Scorsese of making uninteresting movies. And there were a lot of interesting movies in 1970s where Scorsese came of age as a filmmaker. There were movies then for a variety of tastes with no particular genre dominating the other. Sure there were big pictures with big stars that tried to pull in the greatest audience as possible, but important filmmakers like Copola, Altman, Ashby etc, could make a good living making big and small movies.
Then Jaws and Star Wars came along, created the summer blockbuster movie, and the industry was changed in a way that reverberates today. The budgets got bigger, the special effects more intrusive and the plots? Well, if you have to keep using the Death Star to propel your characters to a galaxy far far away so be it.
Scorsese’s 40 plus year career survived that tectonic shift in the industry as he made his movies his way. He is also a director who hasn’t been shy about his Catholic genesis. Though diminishing Jesus to a mere metaphor as he did in The Last Temptation of Christ, may indicate that he, like a lot of us, has yet to complete his faith journey. But he does get points for trying and if his new film Silence is any indication, Scorsese continues to try.
The film looks beautiful based on the trailer I have seen but it is a terrible beauty highlighting a brutal response to Catholic missionaries in Feudal Japan. It is about as spiritual and Catholic as a film is going to be even though, and I think it’s safe to speculate based on the trailer alone, the “silence” of the title references the questioning of faith. Hey, if I found myself in Feudal Japan I might be having a long night of the soul myself.
Conflicted and complex characters are what Scorsese does best and I fully expect to be challenged, inspired and probably a little outraged when I see in the film. So whereas I can’t review a movie I haven’t seen, I think I can review a review of it. Writing in Forbes, critic Scott Mendelson quickly plants his flag regarding the crux of Silence “I will admit that it becomes a bit monotonous, especially to agnostics like myself who aren’t feeling the spiritual dilemmas in their very bones.” Remind me not to suggest A Man For All Seasons for this guy’s Netflix queue. When I see the film I will have a better understanding of where Martin Scorsese is coming from on the big concept of martyrdom and spiritual conflict, but in that same paragraph of the review, Mendelson makes it abundantly clear where he resides. “I spent much of the movie wondering why a Christian God wouldn’t allow his followers a little “live to fight another day” wiggle room.”
We’re still in the post-Christmas euphoria of the coming of Christ and all the joy that news engenders. But the minute Jesus took on human flesh, his journey to the cross began — and He had no wiggle room either. The reviewer’s point of view that suffering is just suffering and attaching personal suffering to Jesus’ cross is an alien concept, tells us more about the reviewer than Scorsese’s film.
When I see Silence, I hope Martin Scorsese’s artistry and his spiritual quest leaves the door open that despite the fallen and complicated world we have inherited, trust in Jesus and His Divine will won’t be left on the editing room floor.
Robert Brennan has been a professional writer for more than 30 years, including many years in the television industry.