BY: Sonny Bunch
There are spoilers for Silence, including a discussion of the ending of both the novel and movie, contained within this post.Read More
There are spoilers for Silence, including a discussion of the ending of both the novel and movie, contained within this post. For a spoiler-free review, click here.
At the end of Goodfellas—after Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) has confessed to his many crimes and sold his long-time friends out to the feds, testifying against them in an open court of law and admitting to the existence of La Cosa Nostra—we see him in a bathrobe, in the doorframe of a tract home in the middle of some artificial suburb. He’s complaining about life as a schnook, the egg noodles and ketchup, the having to wait in line. The camera slides over, across the well-manicured lawns of sod, and then stops at Henry’s feet before panning up, to his face. There’s a slight smile on it and Martin Scorsese cuts to an image of Tommy (Joe Pesci) firing a gun into the camera, at the audience, before cutting back to Hill, now headed inside, still smiling. Hill’s body may have been relocated to the mob-less suburbs, Scorsese seems to be saying, but his soul remains the property of the mafia.
I thought of those final shots when contemplating the closing scene of Silence. In the closing moments of Scorsese’s latest, we see an altogether different man in an altogether similar situation. Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), a missionary to Japan, has been made to apostatize, to renounce his faith. He has been forced to live out his days in an alien landscape, one bereft of the rituals and lifestyle he once loved. Indeed, he has been forced to speak out against God and the Christian faith repeatedly, forced to apostatize again and again by the Japanese magistrates that have imprisoned him. And yet, in his heart, he has kept the faith—as Silence draws to a close, the camera pushes in on the foreign casket in which Rodrigues rests and we see, in the crook of his hand, a tiny crucifix. Scorsese is more explicit here than Shusako Endo is in his novel, where the state of Rodrigues’ faith at the time of his passing is a bit more ambiguous.
The differences between Hill and Rodrigues are obviously great, but it is worth considering their similarities. After all, what is allocution but a form of apostasy? Is testifying in court against your friends and “family” as they sit and watch that different from trampling on the fumie? I’m reminded of the scene in The Sopranos during which Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola) decides to flip and he asks—practically begs—to skip the allocution, the admission to the court that the mob is real, the final violation of omerta. “You know the allocution is always part of it,” his lawyer says. “Practically the whole point.” This is the sin Hill too has committed. Similarly, stepping on the face of the Christ is practically the whole point of the apostasy ceremonies to which Rodrigues is subjected.
The question, then, is how important the ceremony actually is. Allocution may earn you the reproach of the mob and result in expulsion from their outfit, but does it really change what is in the heart of the mobster? Does it alter his outlook on life or his faith in the superiority of the life of the non-schnook? Similarly, trampling may earn you excommunication from your order, but does it constitute a rejection of God, per se? Especially if the action is undertaken under threat of torture—not your own, but those of your flock? Especially if you keep the faith in secret until you die?
My friend Victor Morton suggested in a capsule review of Silence that “the protagonist’s male swagger” so often found in Scorsese’s films is “absent” in this film. I would take half-issue with this, insofar as the film’s theme concerns the dangers of priestly pride and the inherent meaninglessness of such swagger. Rodrigues begins the movie filled with arrogance—demanding from Father Valignano (Ciaran Hinds) the right to be sent to save Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) from the slander that he had apostatized. When captured by the Japanese, Rodrigues welcomes torture and death, hoping to become a glorious martyr whose name shall be remembered one line after Jesus’—only to realize, as his followers are killed, tortured, and abused, even after they have apostatized, that his stubborn refusal to submit is little more than his own vanity, his own pride.
Rodrigues’ resistance is a pride informed by scripture, a pride informed by what he thinks is righteous. But it is pride, nonetheless. And he cannot demonstrate his true faith until he shrugs it off.Read Less