I went to see Martin Scorsese’s Silence the other day and was curious about others’ reactions to it, especially considering the way it discusses Christian faith (and I am a Christian). Reactions to the movie were not hard to find, but scattered among these were many who pointed out Scorsese had made another movie about white male protagonists. And honestly, the movie is about Japan from the point of view of two Jesuit priests–this cannot be denied. However, I think to reduce it to that would overlook some of the value of the movie.
Very often other cultures are only shown in movies through the eyes of someone ‘western,’ and it’s an issue when cultures are portrayed as helpless until some ‘white saviour’ comes along. You can argue Silence avoids this issue by having its protagonists fail in the saviour role they attempt to take on, but let’s leave aside that for the moment. Let’s consider that this was originally a Japanese novel, written by a Japanese man with something to say about how white male protagonists appear from a Japanese point of view.
We should be open to stories from the perspectives of other cultures, but we should also be open to hearing what other cultures tell us about how we comes across to them. What they’re telling us about ourselves.
And I really think Silence is trying to show us ourselves from the perspective of another culture (and yes, I’m including myself in the group addressed because I come from North America and am a Christian, even though I’m female).
You might say, well, this was distorted by the fact it’s Scorsese who does the retelling. And I am sure Scorsese does not tell the story in exactly the same way the author, Shūsaku Endō, would have. However, I personally would have never heard of this story or Endo’s novel without this film. And while watching it I was confronted with the Japanese perspective on these Jesuits who’d come to Japan. And this movie has something to say to people like me, who live comfortably in North America and don’t always realize own our pride. It asks me to re-evaluate myself.
In other words, I’m not entirely sure Scorsese’s direction completely erases or cancels out the novel the movie was based on.
We should listen to what other cultures tell us about themselves, but if we close our ears to what they’re telling us about us, we’re missing the point. We might have very good words to wave the message aside with (‘just another story about white men’), and never hear the message it’s assaulting us with.
So yes, make more stories from the perspective of other cultures about themselves. But at the same time, consider some stories about us ‘North Americans’ are attempting to open our eyes to how we appear to others. Allow ourselves to think about it.
There’s much more to say even about the Japanese perspective represented, as one person never speaks for everyone anyway.
When it comes to Silence‘s deeper messages, especially when it comes to faith, I appreciate some of it with reservations on the rest. I certainly appreciate it as a thought experiment, and the portrayal of one potential personal journey (which glosses over some aspects of reality).
Also, yes, I do go home and research everything I can find about a movie I just saw, or a book I just read, or a speaker I just heard. I hoard information like a miser hoards money. Who doesn’t? 😀