After watching Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’, it gives me the same feeling I had when I watched Oppenheimer’s ‘The Act of Killing’, the feeling where it just destroy your mood for the rest of the day…
While ‘Silence’ might not be as appealing as it is compared to Scorsese’s previous movies such as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, ‘Hugo’ or even ‘The Departed’, the amount of killing and torturing involved really reminds me of the incidents described and revealed by Anwar from ‘The Act of Killing’.
I guess you can say ‘Silence’ is a movie version of ‘The Act of Killing’. Instead of documenting the killing involved from the killer’s perspective, ‘Silence’ surrounds missionary Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) in his attempt to look for Father Ferreira (Liam Nelson) in Japan, who renounced his belief on Jesus after being tortured. During his journey in search for Father Ferreira, Father Rodrigues encountered a lot of local Christian populations hidden underground.
You have to understand that minority culture and belief such as Christianity cannot exist in Japan, as Japan operates under militarism. They see religion as a demonstration of authority.
Once they captured Father Rodrigues, they did not kill him. They see priest as the root to the problem of Christianity. Therefore, instead of killing him, what they did was to force him to renounce his faith. They did this by village massacre, drowning Christians, burning them alive, and having their head chop off…
All of these were done to question Father Rodrigues’ ethical dilemma, who struggles as he questions whether if he’s being too self-centered or too unmerciful to commit apostasy. The dilemma where he is not helping those who are suffering as a Christian priest because he is unwilling to give up his religious belief.
And of course, it didn’t take long until Father Rodrigues breaks down from this ethical dilemma and chose to accept this painful truth.
Throughout the movie, it illustrates the three key areas of ‘humanities’, the correlation between value, culture and the normative. You can see how Father Rodrigues firmly hold on to his belief and see it as a responsibility to have such an ethical guideline. It is this responsibility given by God that gives him such a burden not to commit apostasy.
Watch Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqrgxZLd_gE
2 thoughts on “I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?”
The punishment of conscientious objection (particularly by Jehovah’s Witnesses) in Singapore is another telling instance of how far a state could go to affirm the conservative dogma (the ‘nation’ above a hereticised ‘religion’) of its tendentious imaginary (‘national imaginary’). Refusing to serve the two-year conscription term mandated for all male citizens and permanent residents of age is an offence liable to imprisonment for up to three years under Section 33 of the Enlistment Act. The official website of the anti-secular Christian denomination reports that as of last month nine members are incarcerated at the military detention barracks, most of whom bear the maximum sentence.
For the rest of us who are ‘fortunate’ not to share interpretive commitments that contradict those of the national imaginary, National Service tends to be accepted as a prideful (or else simply inevitable) rite of passage without any critical awareness on our part of the implicative violence on which it is founded. The serene absence of any resistance to the regime in the name of the other even after we have come to hear of such violence would attest to one of the uncountable practices of irresponsibility that we inherit, repeat, and proliferate in the everyday. By not acting against domination, we perpetuate it in complicity. So the violence occasioned by legal interpretation cannot be restrictively attributed to the institution (‘them’), but is potentially extended to every functionary constitutive of the imaginary (‘us’). In this all-encompassing economy of violence, every speech-act (including silence) is open to critical scrutiny.
Your post about the film ‘Silence’ and its historical background made me think of Robert Cover’s essay ‘Violence and the Word’, where he claims that law is founded in violence. Namely, he clarifies this by using the example of martyrdom: ‘The torture of the martyr is an extreme and repulsive form of the organized violence of institutions.’ In order to be effective, legal interpretation needs to take place in a setting of domination.
The Christian minority in Japan at that time was threatening the predominance of the regime, possibly because Christians imagine the future differently. They believe that they will go to heaven, that they will enter into the kingdom of God, regardless of social status. This was quite a revolutionary idea in the former Japanese society with its strict and rigid social hierarchy, especially for the poor peasants. As ‘law is the projection of an imagined future upon reality’ (Cover), the religious law to which this Christian minority was committed was deeply in conflict with the Japanese government’s law and its striving for domination.
The resulting persecution and torture of Christians to make them renounce their faith again demonstrates the material and violent character of the law. According to Cover, the victim is tortured in order to destroy its normative world, which is achieved by the material reality of pain and fear. This creates a new world between the torturer and the victim, a world of complete domination. Here, the act of resistance of the Christian martyr would consist of the ‘triumph’ of not renouncing the Christian faith but insisting on this normative world, and at the same time preventing the domination by the Japanese regime. However, this kind of resistance might not be so glorious in Father Rodrigues’s case.