CGB Review of Silence (2016)

The “war on Christmas” is not persecution; being burned alive if you don’t spit on a crucifix is.

This is my review of Silence!


Father Cristóvão Ferreira has committed an act of apostasy, i.e., he has renounced faith in Jesus and is now living as a Japanese Buddhist.
Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) are former students of Ferreira and cannot believe what they are hearing, which is understandable.  It would be like if I suddenly announced, “I’m no longer Catholic Girl Bloggin’!  I’m now Rastafarian Girl Ranting, so y’all are just gonna have to deal with it!”
Anyway, the two shocked Jesuits decide to go to Japan, which is a very risky move since the gruesome persecution of Japanese Christians is going on.  As they search for their mentor, Rodrigues and Garrpe find themselves serving the embattled Christian villagers who must practice their faith in secret or risk the penalty of death.

This movie made me anxious.  It made me cry.  It made me angry.  I was reeling right up until the end credits…
…And I loved every minute of it.  Why?  Because Silence does what movies are supposed to do: Forces you to feel and confront emotions you would rather not visit.  This movie is cathartic in the most beautiful way.

The Hits
Andrew Garfield continues to impress me.  He made me admire Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge and he made me weep for the embattled Father Sebastião Rodrigues.   Similarly to Hacksaw Ridge, Father Rodrigues is a Christian character written correctly: Faithful yet struggling, clinging to Christ while wrestling with growing doubt, this is a character untouched by Pure Flix, so he’s not an unrealistically righteous wonder bread.  The heart faith of Father Rodrigues both clashes and compliments the head faith of Father Garrpe.  Garrpe starts out only focusing on what’s in front of him, while Rodrigues keeps his eyes on what’s to come, but as the film progresses, they experience a reverse of perspective, with Garrpe evolving into the big picture guy and Rodrigues clinging to what is in his face at the present moment.
The real stars of the film are the Japanese villagers.  Their unshakable faith and hunger for God brought me to tears.  The way they greet Rodrigues and Garrpe with sheer delight, how they fold their hands in prayer under straw huts, the light in their eyes as they receive the Eucharist; their commitment to Catholicism was refreshing to see on the big screen.  In addition, their dedication made their martyrdom all the more powerful and gut-wrenching to behold.
In one of the reviews I had read before seeing the film, it was mentioned that Scorsese’s use of sound design makes particular scenes anxiety-riddling.  As a person who struggles with anxiety myself, it occurred to me to take into consideration whether moviegoers who suffer from anxiety issues would be able to watch the film.  Having seen it, I can say that the use of sound is well handled.  Silent pauses in the film serve as a subtle yet urgent warning, allowing the audience to brace themselves for upcoming martyrdom.  The sounds you are allowed to hear are of burning wood, crashing waves, breaking bones and human misery.   Yes, this movie makes you anxious for the characters, but it works within the context of the film.  It’s the kind of anxiety that you can recover from once the film ends, though what you’ve witnessed will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Finally, I’d like to add more brownie points for the Japanese convert character who took the name “Monica” as her baptismal name; “like the mother of the great Saint Augustine,” Father Rodrigues says.  Any mention of my Confirmation saint (Monica) always brings a smile to my face.  🙂

The Misses
Much like Arrival, I honestly can’t think of any glaring flaws.  If you’re looking for something with more action and a fast-paced plot, you’re not going to find it here.  I guess going back to my concern for moviegoers with anxiety problems, if you are really worried, I do recommend looking at this film’s IMDB page, primarily the parental guide.  Also check out Matt Zoller Seitz’s review of Silence on the late Roger Ebert’s website.  In his review, Zoller-Seitz goes over Scorsese’s use of sound editing:

Okay, time to address the elephant in the room: The ending.
Throughout the film, Japanese Christians are forced by government officials to trample on the fumie, a crudely carved image of Jesus.  Those who refuse are brutally put to death.  In the film’s climax, Father Rodrigues comes face to face with the fumie and, apparently, hears the “voice of Jesus” say to him, “Come ahead now. It’s all right. Step on Me. I understand your pain. I was born into this world to share men’s pain. I carried this cross for your pain. Step.”  This is a paraphrased version of what “Jesus” said to Father Rodrigues in the 1966 novel, “You may trample. You may trample. I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. You may trample. It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”
First: No, I don’t think it was Jesus who said that to him.
Second: The phrase “test the spirits” automatically came to mind. Basically it means that not every interior voice or vision comes from God; I’ve mentioned before that there is a spiritual world where both angels of light and fallen angels of darkness reside.  I looked up the phrase “test the spirits” and came across 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
If anything, I think the ending of Silence is a cautionary word of what happens when proper discernment has not taken place.   A friend of mine once told me, “Remember that a bad spirit will never give you God-centered advice and a good spirit will never give you advice that moves you away from God.”
Let’s face it: Discernment of spirits isn’t exactly a popular subject, but by God, it is an important one.  If there is any time for the subject to be brought to the mainstream, that time would be now.

Overall, Silence is a work of genius, quite possibly Martin Scorsese’s best cinematic achievement.  It is a grueling, atmospheric meditation on when our Lord provides no response in the midst of chaos and how to deal with divine quiet.  Carried by the performances of Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, as well as the tasteful handling of bloody martyrdom, Silence is worth being watched, studied, pondered and discussed for years to come.
May we American Christians appreciate the religious freedoms we enjoy here in the United States.  May we thank God for allowing us to worship freely without the fear of death.  When I got home from seeing the movie, I hit my knees and thanked God for placing me in a country where I can wear a cross or a saint medal in public without having to fear a knife to my throat for doing so.

Holy martyrs of Japan, pray for us and for the conversion of Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver.

Is Kim Davis A Martyr? (Originally Published at The Catholic Response)–

If you are like me and happen to have both liberal and conservative friends, you have heard heated—well, let’s call them— “discussions” about a woman in Kentucky named Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to both gay and straight couples after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Some call her a martyr. Others call her a fool.

I would like to argue that she is neither a martyr nor a fool.
She is simply wrong.


It all began on June 29th, 2015, just three days after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal in all 50 states. Kim Davis, the Clerk of Rowan County, denied David Moore and David Ermold, a same-sex couple, a marriage license. She also withheld licenses from three heterosexual couples. In August federal district Judge David Bunning ordered Davis to issue licenses to all who applied, whether they be gay or straight. However, Davis’ defiance continued as she repeatedly turned away marriage license applicants regardless of sexual orientation. As a result, she was found in contempt and was taken into custody.

Some would question why an elected official would defy the law.

I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word. – Kim Davis

Not A Martyr

I happen to be an English major, which means I have a responsibility to be accurate in my use of various words. In politics, it is not uncommon for loaded words to be tossed around by both sides with reckless abandon. In Kim Davis’ case, some well-meaning conservative people have proposed the idea that she is a martyr for the cause of religious liberty. This makes me cringe because “martyr” is not a term that should be used lightly.
How does the Catechism of the Catholic Church define martyrdom?

Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude. ‘Let me become the food of the beasts, through whom it will be given me to reach God.’ (2473)

Just for the sake of emphasis, I will place a secular definition, as provided by Random House Dictionary, “A person who chooses to suffer death rather than renounce his or her religion.”

Based on these two definitions, I can say with certainty that Kim Davis does not qualify as a martyr. While going to jail was undoubtedly an unpleasant experience, she was not incarcerated for being a Christian. No one in a position of authority has threatened her life. She has not been coerced to renounce her religion. As an individual citizen, she has a right to disagree with the law. As an elected official, she does not have the right to go against it.

Let’s take another look at her quote, “It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience.” Her issue is that by affixing her name to these certificates, she is condoning what clearly goes against Scripture. However, she was not only denying licenses to homosexual couples, but to heterosexual couples, as well, in defiance of the law.

In Matthew 22, Jesus warned against anarchy by urging the Pharisees, “Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” We, as private citizens, can and should hold true to our beliefs and stand firmly upon Christian doctrine. However, as citizens of this great country, we all must follow the law of the land.

Not A Fool, Just Wrong

Going back to definitions, Random House defines a fool as, “A silly or stupid person.” Ms. Davis is neither silly nor stupid. Her statement above is articulate and purposeful. She seems to be fully aware of the consequences of her actions, and has the resolve to see it through to the end. One might argue that she has become a puppet whose strings are being pulled by those who seek to benefit from her conservative stance, but it is clear that she is a true believer.

All that being said, she is simply wrong.

When she became the County Clerk, an elected position, this is what she signed up for. Her duty is to serve whoever walks through her doors, regardless of her personal convictions. When confronted with what she believed was a moral dilemma, she had a choice. That choice was not to deny what has been legally afforded to same sex couples of her county by the Supreme Court and thereby break the law. That choice was to step down from her position.

As a Catholic, I hold firm to what both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition say about the sanctity of marriage, a sacramental bond, instituted by God. As an American citizen, I believe that no one is above the law, whether we agree with it or not. After all, Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar,” or in our case, the Supreme Court. And at the end of all this, I’m not sure if we can say who ‘won’ and who ‘lost’. In the realm of public policy, there will be many casualties and Mrs. Davis might have been one of them; but we ought not consider her a martyr for her faith. When an age of martyrdom becomes a reality for America’s Christians… you’ll know.