As a moviegoer, I am not exactly committed. Oh, sure, I go to movies occasionally, usually when raining or otherwise miserable weather on my day off. Very often even then, I cannot find anything worth my time and money. Sometimes I see something simply because everyone will be talking about it, like the latest Star Wars film, as long as it is not too egregious. The movies I prefer and even recommend tend to be on the other end of the popularity spectrum.
What I recommend this week is like that, though it has received abundant press. I mentioned it in my homily the week before I saw it, because I had long ago read and been impressed by the book upon which it was based. That reference gained me an invitation to see the film with some men of the parish, principally Holy Name guys, which I gratefully accepted.
Silence is a grim and difficult film made grimmer by the prospect of seeing it alone. The previews made clear that the sufferings of the Japanese martyrs are presented without mitigation. Even nearly thirty years after reading it, my memories of the book were clear about the anguish and ambiguity of the protagonist. I knew it would be difficult.
Why would anybody go see such a film? First, the historical setting is accurately depicted, but why would one immerse oneself in such a painful period of history? Wouldn’t an amusing rom-com be more relaxing? Secondly, if one does want history, even of difficult times, that can be explored through the eyes of protagonists we can unambiguously root for and applaud, like a good, heroic World War II epic or struggle for civil rights. So why go so dark and painful?
Let me pose a few reasons. First, it is rare that the history of the Faith and the Church are treated by the movie industry with anything even resembling accuracy and interest, much less sympathy. To have a film of this quality of production and acting is do so openly and unapologetically is a rare opportunity.
Secondly, it makes one think about God. The film, like the book it is based on, reveals many facts and realities, but also asks questions. Though the viewer be not Japanese, nor missionary, nor priest (well, one out of three in my case!) the film brings one to think seriously about the reality of his own relationship with Jesus, the requirements it imposes, and how one meets them.
Thirdly, it does all these things in a way that brings them before many people at the same time, like people reading the same book. People all over America are seeing the film, and thus facing the same questions. The crowd in the theater the night I went was surprisingly large. So other people are interested, and willing to admit it. Why leave your companions and conversation to chance?
Get a few people together and go see Silence. My group went around the block afterwards to the pub for a late dinner and conversation, and enjoyed hearing what others had thought, noticed, and wondered. I could identify a few elements from the book’s author, and a few additions by the film’s producer. None of us was very good at the Japanese names. We were all impressed by the demonstrations of faith, and we all wondered what was authentically from Jesus, and what was not. What did it all mean?
So this is an ideal occasion to think about God in the company of other people and then spend time talking about it. Why not commit to that?