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“The wish to talk to God is absurd. We cannot talk to one we cannot comprehend — and we cannot comprehend God; we can only believe in Him. The uses of prayer are thus only subjective” – Kant

Çağıl Günalp-cakilgunalp@gmail.com

Martin Scorsese’s movies are mostly known for their “commercial success” and popularity. Shutter Island, Departed, Taxi Driver are some of the best examples of Scorsese’s categorically “famous” and commercially “successful” movies. Particularly, cinema audiences mostly believe that popularity, philosophic and intellectual aspects can rarely exist in movies. In the general sense; this argument could have validity due to the consumption habits of today… Mobility, shallowness, clarity, transparency which are dominating principles of the 21’st century can be stated as reasons of validity as claimed above.

We are living in an era where contemporary developments in media, impact of globalisation are giving birth to unprecedented forms of mediated social relations and leading people to show attention to easily consumed, quickly digested, instantly achieved phenomenon. Superficiality of the 21’st century is leading people to sink into divided identities and ‘suppressed personalities’. Not to mention, it gives rise to endless desires, and pushes people to be enslaved to artificial needs that characterizes ‘modern society’. While this understanding, inevitably shapes the philosophy of today’s art and commercial goals, fame and reaching vast number of people (popularity) has become the major target for artists… In a nutshell, ‘quantity’ is becoming superior to ‘quality’. Whereas, since the era of Renaissance, the objective of art has been to shape customs and beliefs of communities, to enlighten people, cracking traditional doctrines, eradicating dogmas and to shed light to black holes and challenging taboos… Instead of being ‘commercial goods’, for centuries art masterpieces sought to grab the essence of life. Moreover, art is concerned with shaping the fate of humanity… What is more to the point, during decades, masterpieces main target had been providing multiple narratives and viewpoints through their illustrations…  In a nutshell, for centuries art was like a discovering rugged and uncharted terrain. And those who pursued salutary perceiving, proper observing and judging were able to conquer lyrical taste of art…

Despite the fact that commercial concerns and shallowness dominates today’s movie industry, rarely we come across exceptional cases… Some exceptional movies which are interpreted by majority as commercial or popular underline and touch upon philosophically and intellectually outstanding issues… Martin Scorses’s religious movie ‘Silence’ can be considered to fall under this category… The remarkable movie, which was inspired from historical events, can be regarded as such a masterpiece due to its narration, soundtracks, cinematography and performance of the film’s leading actors; Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Iseei Ogata…

At first glance, ‘Silence’ can be considered as an “ordinary story” about the ordeal of missionaries … But the philosophy of the story goes beyond that. It can be regarded as tale of ‘faith imperialism’… Moreover, Scorsese’s Silence, could also be considered as a sociological source reflects the quotidian life of Japan in the 17’th century… Social values, customs, impact of feudalism, resistance against cultural imperialism, invincible bond between trade and assimilation; directly or subliminally can be easily seen in scenes and dialogues… In general sense, ‘silence’ corresponds to void, ‘quiescence’ and listening oneself. But in the movie it might be asserted that ‘silence’ addresses the quietness of the god.  In order to evaluate my claim more broadly, it might be beneficial to mention the ethical dilemma that Father Sebastião Rodrigues encountered… After being captured by Japanese Holy Office Members, Father Sebastião Rodrigues is forced to apostasy by stepping on an image of Jesus Christ. Moreover he is forced to witness torture of other Japanese Christians… From my standpoint, within these sceneries, Scorsese sought to dramatize contradictions among faith, conscience, mercy and rationality:  Does one sacrifice his humanity to save humanity? Does one has right to ‘export’ faith to other communities? What is the salvation? If god had been concerned the peace of all soul, why people are shedding blood behalf of their faith and ‘Lord’?  In order to grasp it more profoundly it is worth to quote an American film critic Roger Ebert: “When ‘Silence’ is not quiet, you wish that it were, because the soundtrack is filled with moans of pain and screams of agony and the sounds of bones being broken and flame searing flesh. And, of course, during such moments you fear silence, too, because the grave is silent… How much suffering can a man take before breaking and renouncing that which is most important to him? If he does break, does it mean he has failed God? Does God want him to resist blasphemy no matter what the cost? Or does he want the priest to give up and renounce his faith, secure in the knowledge that God’s love is great enough to forgive him for not being able to endure unendurable pain? Is God indifferent to the suffering? Does He even notice it? What would Jesus do? A lot of people in Father Rodrigues’ position would interpret that as a physical challenge: if Christ withstood the agonies of the cross, I can get through this. But Christ wasn’t mortal, so it’s an unfair test. But what if the unfairness of the test is the test? And what of the other prisoners in the facility with the priest? All it would take to end their suffering—or so the priest is told—is one footprint on the image of the savior. Is it moral to allow others to suffer when their suffering can be ended with a single symbolic gesture? Would God want that? Maybe the priest is destined to realize that it’s all right to apostatize if it ends the pain of others…”

As I have stated above; Scorsese’s Silence is the tale of faith and ethical dilemmas… It might be stated that, Silence of Scorsese, is subliminally addressing the differentiation of being religious and ethical… Is it sufficient enough to be devoted of becoming ethical? What is the role of religion to achieve appetite of honesty, virtue, wisdom and empathy? In order to highlight this, it might be beneficial to quote Andrew Garfield plays the Father Sebastião Rodrigues: “I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence? I worry, they value these poor signs of faith more than faith itself. But how can we deny them?  I feel so tempted. I feel so tempted to despair. I’m afraid. The weight of your silence is terrible. I pray, but I’m lost. Or am I just praying to nothing? Nothing. Because you are not there…”

As it was written in the  Guardian “Crafted with painstaking grace and performed with occasional, surprising barbs of wit, Silence isn’t a paean to a single religion, but a stark and stirring study of the very nature of belief and the variable conditions of its expression – a film in which no believer or nonbeliever quite emerges with the upper hand”.

As I have mentioned above, rather than clearly illustrating conflict, masterpieces are obligated to revive and reshape customs and values of communities… In this respect, as it was highlighted at Cinemaretro, ‘great’ art often requires an audience to meet it halfway, to capitulate and embrace the pain that is at the heart of what the artist has intended to convey. According to article, Scorses ‘Silence’ is one of those films… It is indicated in the article that Silence is decades-long passion project for Scorsese and it is about the ‘silence’ of God that is the biggest obstacle faced by people of faith. As it is underlined at the article “The subject matter would have been at home in hands of someone like Ingmar Bergman, who tackled this topic several times in his career. Nevertheless, Scorsese’s oeuvre has often been informed by his Catholic upbringing and his struggles with it. While his 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ, was a deeply personal and, yes, a religious picture, it was met with controversy and even banning in some territories. Silence is an even more religious statement from the master filmmaker, and it, too, has received mixed responses. Some hailed it as a masterpiece. Others said it was an overlong, colossal bore. The relentless suffering of the characters—in silence—takes its toll. Perhaps that’s what Scorsese wanted to do. To test the audience, just as the priests are tested.”

It is crystal clear to point that the path of mercy can not only be walked by devoted people… This illusion is the source of glittering miseries… Because what is defined as “good” should be based on a morally good disposition… As Tadanobu Asano plays the Interpreter quotes: “Everyone knows a tree which flourishes in one kind of earth may decay and die in another. It is the same with the tree of Christianity. The leaves decay here. The buds die… The path of mercy. That means only that you abandon self. No one should interfere with another man’s spirit. To help others is the way of the Buddha and your way, too. The two religions are the same in this. It is not necessary to win anyone over to one side or another when there is so much to share”