Art & Culture

Why Martin Scorsese's Silence is the film of our times

Why Martin Scorsese's Silence is the film of our times

In today’s post-truth era, where arguments are grounded in beliefs rather than reason, Silence could not have been more relevant.

Martin Scorsese's Silence is a movie that will resonate with everyone given the emotionally turbulent and faith-charged times we live in. It is a staggering film — set during the fall of Christian missionaries to the hands of the Japanese government’s violent attack on the spread of the Christianity.

We get to see two Jesuit priests find their way to Japan in search of their mentor, believed to have been killed.

As extreme as this setting sounds, it portrays the immensely personal experience of grappling with one’s own faith, told from the eyes of one of the priests.

In one scene you watch the protagonist justify his unwavering belief that his faith is “the truth”, which makes it universal.

You will struggle at times to keep watching because it hits so close to home in authenticating the struggle of a "believer" and an "atheist".

And therein lies the power of this movie. It leaves you riddled with questions about your own faith even if you’re not a devout follower of any religion.

It is an apt portrayal of the struggle that each one of us probably faces at some point in our lives — whether directed towards a religion, an irrational belief, or an idea that we’re not willing to let go off even when faced with contradictory fact.

The movie touches upon the vastly existential questions about faith — why is it important to have it? Can we understand it? And when your faith has the ability to oppress, marginalise or create situations of suffering for others, is it not worth questioning?

For the Japanese who have converted to Christianity, the priest is their God — he personifies and thus defines their faith — they seek his acceptance and his approval in the way they must practice it.

We get to see people who are hardened by their belief in the faith, willing to give their lives for their God, even when the priests expect the followers to suffer for their ideals.

And this treatment of struggling with faith sheds light on the broader struggles we encounter every day.

Leaders across the world are simultaneously displaying the kind of strong-headed power that divides us to conquer the popular vote, instigating insularity.

From a superpower electing a sexist, racist, climate-change denying, xenophobic bigot as their leader to the spread of intolerance in the largest democracy in the world, we’re witnessing it all.

Liam Neeson in Silence. (Credit: Screengrab)

Politicians and leaders are the "new church" today and what challenges us now is not necessarily religious faith, but additionally blind faith in people of power that then translates into their words and actions. Especially for people who view them as their only source of hope for dignity and equality, these leaders represent greater than life reverence.

It is only natural to look outside of the self when you seek things beyond your control. Yet, today blind faith in an idea, in a leader and then in your beliefs has become the practice.  

Whether it's your faith in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “war on cash” through demonetisation or US President Donald Trump's policies, this blind faith might arise from a deep-seated arrogance or just plain ignorance, and can be extremely dangerous.

And what is the role of the leaders in promulgating such behaviour? Would the debate surrounding Modi’s move to demonetise end if one of the party members or the PM himself admitted to the poor planning and/or implementation of the move?

Similarly, when others act violently or inhumanely in the name of a belief you so articulately instill in them, as a leader, does it not become your responsibility to acknowledge the impact of the intolerance you have bred?

This then brings to the fore, the sources of information on the basis of which we develop beliefs and opinion. One of those grossly irreversible adversities of the inter-web is the onslaught of information play-acting as news.

A large number of individuals get a bulk of their news from Facebookwhich is largely un-curated content brought to you through an algorithm that is conducive to increasing the inevitable risk of suffering from confirmation bias.

We are treated to only that which will not make us uncomfortable or challenge us, providing little airtime to opposing viewpoints.

Countless experiments and studies discuss the psychological biases that coexist with our processes of opinion formation and, “once formed,” researchers have observed, “impressions are remarkably perseverant".

Political divisions between us are greater than ever, which has led to this rising tide of "hypernationalism” all around the world.

This, combined with the danger of polarising beliefs by pitting any dissent or difference of opinion against that very nationalism, has created this magnificently disturbed and broken world we live in.

 The “Illusion of explanatory depth”, a commonly studied and explained phenomenon, discusses how people adaptively often believe their opinions are based on a far superior understanding of a situation than they actually have.

This is probably all the more strengthened due to the onslaught of content of varied quality that we endure. And when people collectively and wholeheartedly fall for this illusion, they find their opinion validated in number, albeit not in substance, leading to greater aggression in support of their belief.

Falling prey to such an illusion is even more likely when we’re given only two oversimplified options.

So for both, us and our leaders — we must question our faith constantly. We must expose ourselves to alternative opinions and consciously engage with people who are different from us.

It is only the ability to question our beliefs and that of others that have helped us evolve. Change is gradual and shows promise — at least we know not to throw widows in the pyre anymore.

Coming back to the masterpiece that is Silence, in a scene depicting their immense struggle, Japanese men and women are forced to step on an engraved photograph of Christ to prove they are not believers of the Christian faith. The consequence of failing to do so was death.

Although it was explicitly stated that this formality could save their lives, they were unwilling to do so until the priest gave assent of the action.

It seems ridiculous that such a show of faith might be required when faith itself is such a personal thing.

And if your faith is, in fact, so fragile as to need constant reassurance of your belief in it — through vandalism, violence, oppression or at the risk of losing your life or infringing on the liberties of others — is it not worth giving a second thought?

Do not misread this article as dissonant with the concept of faith, but only the idea of faith that is blind to its costs and consequences to others.

Last updated: March 07, 2017 | 08:14
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