Concerning the movie ‘Silence’ movie by Scorsese, book by Shusaku Endo

I just read at The Catholic Thing a review by Brad Miner of the movie from Martin Scorsese Silence, from Shusaku Endo’s book.

Here is the bottom line from the review:

Scorsese’s Silence is not a Christian film by a Catholic filmmaker, but a justification of faithlessness: apostasy becomes an act of Christian charity when it saves lives, just as martyrdom becomes almost satanic when it increases persecution. “Christ would have apostatized for the sake of love,” Ferreira tells Rodrigues, and, obviously, Scorsese agrees.

I think I won’t go to the movie… which is three hours long.  And it is promoted by certain Jesuits… no thanks.  I would very much like to see the first version of Silence by Masahiro Shinoda.

I read the book and it left me deeply disturbed.  We should all spend time thinking about the Four Last Things… every day.  I also firmly believe that we should all try to get our heads into that mental place against the day when we might be called upon to make the Big Choice.   Endo raises these questions for the reader, especially the priest reader, in a particularly brutal way.  However, he left me depressed.

Fathers, you would do well to read the book.


You might also want to read Lucy Beckett’s The Time Before You Die.


And also John Gerard’s The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest


And… on that note…  MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone!

Hmmm… the lyrics become a little melancholy, not to say ominous, in light of the books mentioned above.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Paul says:

    Just finished autobiography of a hunted priest, absolutely brilliant read and I think relevant for today. The passages where the martyrs are led to the executioner with joy shows their strength of faith and I pray I have that strength when I am tested, albeit the tests I will likely face are going to be verbal rather than life threatening.

  2. Paul says:

    I would also recommend the book “St Nicholas Owen, priest-hole maker” by Tony Reynolds for anyone interested in this period of English history.

  3. pannw says:

    A couple of years ago, I bought the book, Saints of the American Wilderness: The Brave Lives and Holy Deaths of the Eight North American Martyrs, for my husband in hopes of inspiring him to learn more about the Faith, so he might convert. I thought seeing a Faith that would lead someone to martyrdom might help, especially with a bit of American history thrown in. He said it was very hard to read in spots, and he’s not a ‘soft’ man. I think he thought it was a little insane for anyone to actually go back after returning to the safety of France, but I’m hoping it planted a seed…a very slow growing seed. Pray for him.

  4. Kathleen10 says:

    I doubted anything uplifting was going to come from Martin Scorcese.

  5. benedetta says:

    Hmmm. Lots to consider on this topic, I think.

    What if out of ideology some folks today with a lot of power were going around torturing others — for the sake of it, for example, to scare and intimidate others, to politicize themselves, to garner more power, to humiliate? If this isn’t all about just hype and hollywood, and it’s most important to in the end spare others that needless suffering, then? What are the ramifications of looking away, pretending it’s not happening, or, piling on…? What are we to make of those celebrating this movie who themselves have quite a lot of power but do not raise a finger to help…?

    I think it’s an excellent book. And I sort of don’t know what to make of a talented, wealthy, commercially successful director actively shopping the film to Catholic audiences right now. I don’t really get that. I feel it’s a bit well, imposing.

  6. benedetta says:

    I mean, what if a lot of us would like to go and see an entertaining, thoughtful, ponderous story with beautiful costuming and detail, but we can’t really afford an expensive movie ticket right now, at Christmas, a time when we are recharging from horror and violence of the world and trying to renew and rekindle hope to go forward…because of persecution, uninvited and unknown, we can’t steadily and normally work and live as normal people…and a child has a health condition which also needs to be taken care of…but who do you sue for that…or where do you go…and a lot of else besides…? I am sure that these rich people who ride in limousines and direct gazillion dollar budgeted movies really don’t give a fig about any of that? And then if they know where I worship they care, I guess, even less? And then a non practicing Catholic comes to be didactic with the rest of us as if he can teach, us, a lesson? I’m sorry I’m happy that he is a successful entertainer but I’m just not feeling it as far as the power and import of this movie, by this man, at this particular time, and why he is heavily marketing it to, well, people like us? Why should we see it? Why should I fork over my little cash to see an ideological dynamic that I deal with every day, with no reward and little encouragement, and certainly not from his milieu? Did he consult truly persecuted people to make this movie, or is this his spin on the book? Clearly, Scorsese does not know what it feels like to be tortured, have so many against, nowhere to turn, be isolated and fearful, every day.

    Perhaps certain of us will look back on this one day as a quaint hollywood depiction of something those powerful elites know precious little about. That made a gazillion dollars. While others were aware of people close to home, in the here and now, getting the treatment, co religionists even, or compadres from the old country, and looked on and just shrugged and tipped the glass.

  7. Andreas says:

    …and a Blessed and joyous Christmas to you from the Tirol, Father Z.

  8. Kerry says:

    Spoken Japanese, some English and Russian sub-titles notwithstanding, Shinoda’s Silence can be watched here,
    I typed in Silence in the left box and up it came. Classic Hollywood movies there as well. I watched some of Silence, interesting.
    (I am betting our fine host reads Russian.)

  9. bar3 says:

    How is reading the book different from seeing the movie? They end the same way.

  10. un-ionized says:

    benedetta expresses me better than I can.

  11. bar3 says:

    Sorry, wanted to clarify my question. I know how reading ANY book is different (better) than watching ANY movie. I want to know how reading the content of this specific book could be judged to be better than the content of this specific movie… since the objections Miner has too the movie could also be applied to the book.

  12. donato2 says:

    I read the novel years ago. I don’t remember everything about it but my take away on it at the time was that it was a meditation on the mystery of Judas, i.e., why some, like Judas, betray Christ but others do not. I did not read it as being supportive of apostasy however. I read it as a sort of inverse of Wise Blood: in Wise Blood the mystery is why some are resistant to apostasy despite their best efforts while in Silence the mystery is why some fall to apostasy despite their best efforts. I remember that the introduction to the paperback made the argument that the novel supports the view that Catholicism must change itself to adapt to non-Western cultures and it made the argument in a way that smacked greatly of relativism. However in my own read of the novel I did not get any sense that Endo was implicitly or explicitly arguing that way. It could be though that I missed it, I don’t know.

    I have a visceral and profound dislike of every Martin Scorcese movie that I have seen. If there is an atheistic, relativistic or anti-Catholic way to spin the novel, I’m sure he has done so. When I heard that Scorcese was making Silence into a movie, I immediately felt repelled by the idea of seeing it. I get a strong sense of evil from Scorcese. The idea of him touching anything Catholic is repugnant to me.

    On a separate but related note there is a great Christian film-maker out there that I commend to all readers of this blog. His name is Terrence Malick. Tree of Life, To the Wonder, and Knight of Cups are in my opinion that rarest of things these days: great works of Christian art.

  13. Benedict Joseph says:

    After all these decades of “upside down, inside out” counterintuitive speculative “theology” coming out the “Catholic theological academy,” what else would one expect of a piece of cinema having an “opening night” of sorts at the Vatican. I had heard it was aberrant.
    I had no idea of the depth of its – depravity is not too strong a word from what I have read here.
    I am saddened and grieved yet again, but it is what I have come to expect from a decadent entity roaming all corners of the planet pretending to be some expression of Roman Catholicism. If a moral midget like me can be so deeply wounded to read this report, how must Heaven itself regard this sacrilege?
    Even the sacrifice of our martyrs is regarded as meaningless by these people. But then again, that was made fairly clear by the recent apostolic exhortation. The faithful Jesuits of centuries past, the Carthusians, the recognized as well as the anonymous laity who gave their lives in the defense Magisterial teaching on the sacraments regarded as misguided morons. Because this movie and its reception among a certain strata of “Catholics” does say that.
    It makes a man’s head spin.
    It is unacceptable.

  14. teachermom24 says:

    I read the review in TCT this morning then found a very different review in the National Catholic Register: The latter raised some very good points missing from TCT.

    “Silence hangs us on the horns of an unsettling dilemma: On the one hand, can a Christianity that is culturally European have meaning in Japan? On the other, if Christianity has changed in Japan, is it still the same faith proclaimed by the missionaries?”

    I won’t go to see the movie, not because I think it’s anti-Catholic or anti-Church or anti-anything, but I can’t stomach graphic violence. But I do intend to read the book.

  15. tioedong says:

    Endo’s books often have the theme that a loving Christ is with us even when we are poor, outcasts, or weak… even those who have committed the worst sin can be forgiven.

    Endo’s books, like all great Catholic literature, presents the paradox of sinners and God’s love.
    It is one thing to die for one’s faith. But would a compassionate Christ tell you to fake apostasy to save the lives of others? This argument is an ancient one but there are no easy answers. The Japanese died with their children, but St. Perpetua did not, and presumably allowed her child to be brought up by her pagan father…

    “O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall. Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap. May who ne’er hung there.”

  16. LovedSinner says:

    Teachermom mentioned the NC Register’s review from Stepher D. Greydanus. Here is the pull-out quote from here to contrast with Brad Miner’s review from The Catholic Thing.

    The climactic moment is much debated, and rightly so. Is it an act of betrayal? An act of self-abnegating love? Both at the same time? Less debatable is what follows. In the end, the question is not whether one has betrayed God, but whether in doing so one has abandoned him entirely, or whether there is still hope of forgiveness.

    Perhaps the theme is this is apostasy but at the same time there is still forgiveness afterwards? Theme in storytelling is complex.

  17. Nan says:

    bar3, if you buy the book, Scorsese doesn’t make any money from it.

    benedetta, he wants to make money and realized that typical Hollywood crap isn’t the moneymaker that a religious movie has the potential to be.

    pannw, St. Isaac Jogues is one of my favorite saints; he loved offering Mass so much that after his torture, which mangled his hands, he asked for, and received, a dispensation from elevating the host because he could not do so.

  18. Bosco says:

    As luck would have it, I was given the 1971 Masahiro Shinoda DVD version of ‘Silence’ for Christmas and watched it just this evening. I will be deliberately vague in order not to spoil the plot for others.

    I found the film both depressing and frustrating if only because the Jesuit father(s) could not come up with satisfactory apologetical arguments to counter their Japanes inquisitor(s) objections to Christianity. The film seemed endlessly dreary. I cannot imagine sitting through Scorsese’s even longer interpretation.

    In any event, I assure you one can get the same sort of ‘clash of cultures feel’ without the hopelessness by watching the superb 1991 film ‘Black Robe’.

  19. jhayes says:

    From RTE

    Martin Scorsese had an audience with Pope Francis today after his new movie, Silence, had its world premiere in Vatican City with a special screening in front of 400 Jesuits.

    See article for photo of Scorsese with Pope Francis



  21. benedetta says:

    j hayes, and your point is? I mean, is this Russia? Are we supposed to conclude by this that debate on his moral assertions are therefore closed to debate? Censored?

  22. benedetta says:

    Would Marty S. give away 400 free tickets to Catholics being persecuted in the U.S., his own country, in which Hollywood elites and other cultural moralists set the tone towards how to harass and hate on Christians in our wealthy and commercially minded materialist yet Gnostic part of the world? I’m just asking. I’d love a free ticket or two. In solidarity? For…something…

  23. un-ionized says:

    Nan, and to get the dispensation he had to go to Rome and ask the Pope in person. Then he willingly came back here, knowing he would probably be killed. They chewed off his fingers. St. Isaac Jogues is one of my favorites.

  24. bar3 says:

    Right, which is why it clarifies my question. It seems to me that it is the content of the story itself that is wicked, not merely Scorsese’s interpretation. Apostasy is blessed by Christ in the nivel as well as in the movie… how is that a Catholic novel? I suppose if Endo had made it clear that the voice of “Christ” was actually a demonic temptation, that could redeem the novel. Not having read the novel, I’m just asking if there is some redeeming factor in the novel that is absent from the film.

  25. benedetta says:

    Well, what should our response be, when another is being tortured, brutalized, humiliated, for their belief, right in front of us? Is it to shut the blinds and circle the wagons around what is ours? While many would act upon this instinct and justify this in so many theological and practical ways, still others who believe, yet do not even have the power of the Eucharist in the Real Presence and the sacraments, out-holy these by their good samaritan actions. Faith without works is dead, no? And others, elitists with power, would perhaps pile on even and encourage the persecution, even though auspiciously people who are officially ministerial types. The book Silence raises these nicely, and also the use of control and power by the authorities in the face of a belief they suspect and do no understand. To the extent that absolute power corrupts absolutely, the use of torture to extract control by the authorities in the mission land is instructive, and also, that persecutions were promised by our Lord and should be expected, or, hostile, violent, non-comprehension of the humble, vulnerable, beautiful, and still yet powerful in terms of other worldly goodness Truth is.

    I’m not going to engage in spoilers but I certainly do think the book very worthwhile to read for Catholics. It’s actually important for Catholics to read it now.

    But I abstain from a hyped up gazillion dollar budget American Hollywood movie version on several grounds, many already named here aptly. I just don’t like to reward already rich elitist hypocrisy with a movie ticket price that enriches those who are already partaking of the 1% and therefore necessarily completely out of touch with the lives of the common man and woman, and particularly when they think as non Catholics that they have something to dictate, with a club, in essence, to tell the poor slobs slugging it out in real life every day to forget about Faith and do as they do with so many more resources. I just can’t afford it, or that…We can’t afford it. As a culture, as believers, as society. It’s to rich for my blood, the entire enterprise.

    If this did not have a negative spin towards ordinary belief in general, or towards holiness, and Catholicism, could it ever have gotten made as a picture? All the “conversations” from this circle is one sided, dictatorial, beating with a club, and premised with just the one prevailing New York Timesian, frozen cave man lawyer “We don’t get religious belief” empowered denial and bigotry. It’s the same old tune. It’s a broken record.

    Read the book. It’s better for your wallet. You can pass it on to someone else when you finish. There is much to contemplate, chapter by chapter, by a masterful storyteller, so you can consider it not in the length of one and one half hours over smelly popcorn and soda but over many evenings or even with a book group or circle of friends. I’ll put it to you this way: reading the book will do infinitely more for you spiritually, cognitively, and overall health wise, (and believe me the elites are taking care of all of these things for themselves because photos and interviews and press and red carpet etc) than running over to your big box chain movie theatre (playing all across the country!) operation at the mall (shudder) with disgusting chemical stale popcorn and a liter of soda in a cup over 2 hours will. Don’t feel guilty either. There will still be good films made worth supporting for 10 dollars a ticket if you sit this one out.

    And to those who would shame me for this, I ask again, just for my having, two cents opinion, is this Russia?

  26. benedetta says:

    ut in nomine Iesu omne genu flectat caelestium et terrestrium et infernorum
    et omnis lingua confiteatur quia Dominus Iesus Christus in gloria est Dei Patris
    itaque carissimi mei sicut semper oboedistis non ut in praesentia mei tantum sed multo magis nunc in absentia mea cum metu et tremore vestram salutem operamini
    Deus est enim qui operatur in vobis et velle et perficere pro bona voluntate

  27. M. K. says:

    I haven’t seen the Japanese film adaptation of the book, but I’m skeptical about whether “Silence” can be successfully filmed, as the novel is heavily concerned with interiority – a lot of the crucial “action,” as it were, takes place within the protagonist’s head. I agree with Fr. Z that it’s a worthwhile book for priests to read, but I think that it’s a complex and subtle enough work that it could cause a lot of confusion for readers who are not spiritually mature enough to navigate its ambiguities, and I fear that the release of the film will lead a lot of people to read the book who are not ready for it.

  28. Mike says:

    I read the novel a few years before I reverted. It was difficult then just from an agnostically existential point of view. It might be interesting to reread today (although, I’m pretty sure, no less difficult) from the perspective of conformance with the will of God.

    In the meantime, though, I’m tucking into the works of Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek SJ, starting with With God in Russia. Maybe after that I’ll be interested in sparring with those who would try to make a virtue of apostasy, but right now it’s too early to tell.

  29. Alanmac says:

    I read the review of Scorcese’s movie done by an interview between a fawning Fr Martin and serial polygamist Scorcese in the American Jesuits magazine “America”. As you could probably predict, Fr Martin thought it was a very insightful movie.

  30. benedetta says:

    In defense of this Catholic marketing bonanza (I’ll play the devil’s advocate…er…?):
    a.) one hopes that the publicity will lead many more souls to read the story in print and contemplate the spiritual journeys of the characters therein and
    b.) even with a director who both compacts an entire book into 1.5 hours film time and applies his own personal interpretation onto another’s work…which is what all “film versions” of published works necessarily do…some indulging their personal interpretations and liberties much more than others who attempt to be faithful to another artist’s work…still even with all of this, assuming the spin that favors the reigning wealthy American cultural elitist dogma which dictates that “religion is bad” and further that “Catholicism is particularly to be mocked in big commercial entertainment sales transactions and offerings”, strangely the culture vultures in power are then placed in the strange position of being on the side of the torturers in the movie who are essentially cultural isolationists who fear citizens believing things of their own free will and employing reason that they do not put into their heads.

    You see I can say nice things after all about this movie event. Real tolerance and coexistence towards Catholics coming soon to a region near you! Or, me? In the New Year! Let’s pray…

  31. Elizabeth M says:

    In one trailer, there is the line “The price for your glory is their suffering”. This disturbed me. The director presents this moment as if a Catholic priest didn’t understand that suffering a martyr’s death would bring eternal glory? Even burdened by temptation one prays that the Holy Spirit would help them. Isn’t that one reason you get a good slap across the face at Confirmation?
    I know the movie isn’t factual. However, it does nothing to uplift and help our world out of the chaotic spiral downward it is in by making such a film. It does nothing to help people really understand Catholicism nor honor the sacrifice of the real martyrs of Japan.
    What this film does do is simple – it places honor and comfort of body over eternal happiness because we are a soft generation.
    Instead of giving any more time to this book or film I will read about the real lives and pray for their intersession.
    May God spare us from having to make this type of choice. We’re all weak, but we have hope and strength from Grace when we need it.

  32. Lavrans says:

    There is no excuse for apostasy, and no circumstances which can make such a sin correct. The notion is a false one to begin with. If the Japanese were going to torture and kill innocent people, that is on them, not on the missionary. It is a false scenario. He is to remain faithful. The innocent are to remain faithful. Those committing the horrible crime are the guilty party, regardless of how they spin it – “if you don’t trample this crucifix, then we will torture and kill those innocent people over there” – this is a fallacy. The torture and killing was done by the Japanese, not the man being asked to apostatize. This fallen world is not fair. Suffering and death happen. But one is never, NEVER, forced to commit mortal sin. Take up your cross, like St. Thomas More and countless other martyrs. Scorsese and others have glorified, as usual, vice over virtue. Avoid this movie. And, personally, I’m not going to read the book either. Why bother? I know what is right. All the appeals to emotion do not change truth or true theology, no matter how difficult. His grace is sufficient.

  33. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    I remember an interview Scorsese gave–perhaps to People magazine–during “The Last Temptation of Christ” controversy in the late 1980s.

    Scorsese said he began to question (or abandon) Catholicism after he had heard a priest describe the Vietnam War as a “holy cause.” I think this was just his excuse for choosing to leave. I understand Scorsese is a Buddhist (or dabbles in Buddhism). So if he hears one Buddhist monk call for the nuclear destruction of Beijing (for the way China treats Tibet and has persecuted Buddhism), would Scorsese then abandon Buddhism?

    Decades ago, a very nice Scottish lady explained to me that she is a lapsed Catholic because she “didn’t understand why an eight-year-old child has to go to Confession.”

    This was her excuse for leaving. (Strangely, she never joined any Protestant church that rejects the sacrament of Confession.)

  34. Nicolas Bellord says:

    This film ‘Silence’ only came out in the UK on 1st January and I saw it last week. I thought it was excellent. There are two Jesuits – one Father Arrupe dies for the faith trying to rescue a Japanese catholic who is being martyred. The other – Father Sebastiao Rodrigues shows himself to be rather weak in his faith and has to be corrected by Father Arrupe but nevertheless eventually apostatises. I do not think Scorsese is saying that he is right in apostatising but leaves the question with the viewer. The dialogue between the previous apostate Father Ferreira and Father Rodriques surely shows what a poor choice he makes.

    What has subsequently surprised me more is a review published on the website of the Conference of the Roman Catholic Bishops of England & Wales as a ‘statement’. It tells us:

    “Scorsese was born in 1942 and the Catholicism that he grew up with, an Italianate New York Catholicism of the 1940s and 1950s, has been absorbed by the director. He turned 20 at the time of the first session of the Second Vatican Council but he seems to have moved away from day-by-day Catholicism at this period and his later comments and reflections do not echo the renewal instigated by Vatican 2. In many ways, Scorsese is Catholicism is a past Catholicism.

    This is evident in Silence, in its portrayal of the Jesuit priests, their missionary endeavours, the persecutions, torture and executions. The ethos of martyrdom is that of the period of Scorsese’s childhood and adolescence, a long tradition of heroism in giving up one’s life for the faith, witnessing to faith in suffering and death, reinforced at the time by the Church’s experiences in Eastern Europe, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the well-known stories of Cardinal Mindzenty in the 1950s.”

    So apparently in the new church favoured by our Bishops’ Conference the ethos of martyrdom is old hat and rather passe’. I do wish I could learn more about this new church post Vatican II. Where do I find out?

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