Category Archives: Movie Review

Silence and the Last Temptation of Father Rodrigues

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.  

Luke 22:31 Jesus’ warning to Simon Peter

Warning Spoilers!

Martin Scorsese’s epic Silence, based on the 1966 novel by Shūsaku Endō is a stunning but challenging work of cinematic achievement.  Like all truly beautiful art, Silence requires demands our full attention to even begin to process it subtlety and symbolism.

Silence starts as a Heart of Darkness search for a brilliant Jesuit priest Father Cristóvão Ferreira (played by Liam Neeson) who may have apotheosized his Catholic Faith during the Christian persecutions in 17th Century Japan. Horrified at the slander to their mentor and spiritual father, two younger Portuguese Jesuits, Father Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) volunteer to search Japan for him.  At best they hope to clear his name, or if the worse be true, to save his soul for God.

Their guide to the hidden Christian communities in Japan is the drunken outcast Kichijiro who has apostatized his Catholic faith.  Of course apostatizing is very simple: all one needs to do is to step on a carved icon called a “fumie.”  Kichijiro has survivor’s guilt after watching his entire family martyred for their Christian faith.  He begs Father Rodrigues to hear his confession and laments that he is a weak man who should have been born in a more peaceful time.

Fr Rodrigues and Father Garupe find the faith still alive in small, isolated villages. The Japanese Catholics they find there have been without a priest and the Sacraments for years. Christ’s lambs are starving and eagerly embrace the priest who in turn feed them with the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confession. For a short time the priests minister their flock but with the Inquisitor, Inoue Masashige, closing in Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe decide to split up.

Kichijiro, the weak man that he is, betrays Father Rodrigues to the Inquisitor and is placed with other captured Christians. Defiant, Father Rodrigues says that persecution only makes him stronger and says he wants a “real challenge” to his faith. That severe challenge arrives in the person of Father Ferreira, who has indeed apostatized.

Liam Neeson’s Ferreira is a broken, joyless man, who nervously glances back to his Japanese handlers under the shocked accusations from Rodrigues.  Not only is Ferreira a defeated man but he is also an evil man in the sense of St. Thomas Aquinas. He’s evil not because of what he does but by what he lacks. He is a man deprived of almost every good: his faith, his culture, his courage, his vocation as a priest, even his very identity.  Ferreira’s inward damnation is effectively symbolized by the Japanese name of an executed criminal that is now forced upon him as his own. Very little of Ferreira is left in the shell of a man that sits across from Rodrigues. As Ferreira himself states, “I am he is no longer the man that you once knew”.

That night, Father Rodrigues is forced to watch five Japanese Christian tortured by anazuri (a method that involves being hung upside down over a pit and slowly bled).  In the shadowy darkness of the Father Rodrigues’s prison cell, Ferreira’s eyes shine black. He taunts Rodrigues, saying that the tortured screams he is hearing is his own fault, if he would just but lightly touch the fumie with his foot it the prisoners would be released. With the fumie just a step away, Ferreira administers the coup de gras, telling Rodrigues if Christ was here right now He would step on the Fumie to save the tortured people and that it would be Rodrigues greatest act of love if he would just step.  At this moment, Christ apparently breaks His silence to Rodrigues: “Come ahead now. It’s all right. Step on Me. I understand your pain. I was born into this world to share men’s pain. I carried this cross for your pain. Step.”

As Rodrigues steps, a cock crows three times …

Was the voice of Christ real? Was it just the delusion of a sleep deprived, tortured brain? Or was the voice something else entirely? One hint seems to emerge as the voice continues after Rodrigues steps: “Your life is now with Me.”  Jesus said that the greatest love is for a man to lay down for the sake of others but only the Devil would ask a man to lay down his very soul to save himself from pain.

So what about us? Rodrigues fumie undid him because he fell victim to two lies: The belief that the innocent can be made responsible for the evil actions of others, in this case the torture of the Japanese Christians, and that doing evil to counter a greater evil will bring about a good. For Rodrigues the results were tragic, he lost everything and at best he may have only one a temporary reprieve for the Japanese Christians who will likely still face death at a later time.

We are faced with Fumies whenever we believe that doing a “small” evil in the hope of preventing an even greater evil add up to a good. It is only with faith, trust and above all else humility that can give us the strength not to step when we should not.

 

St Augustine and the Decline of Civilization

While the greatest Empire in history is on the brink of a precipice, one man fearlessly searches for the meaning of his life and that of the men and women of his time           Lux Vide website

430 AD: The Roman North African City of Hippo is under siege from an invading Vandal army led by their King Gaiseric.  Surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, Hippo’s Bishop, Aurelius Augustine, tries to persuade Governor Valerius to seek a negotiated settlement.

So opens Christian Duguay’s epic drama on the life of Roman theologian and philosopher Saint Augustine.   Restless Heart is more than a straight forward biography of Augustine but is an engaging recreation of a civilization in decline.  Now at this point you may be saying, “well, this all sounds good but this is a religious movie right? About a saint? It probably has low production values,  preachy and worse of all, boring. Watching this movie sounds like eating my vegetables: it’s good for me but I’m not very excited about it.“

Do you think we can live without the truth

Well I have good news for you. Restless Heart is entertaining,  has talented actors, a stirring sound track and high production values. Nor is Restless Heart’s Augustine a holy card saint.  He makes mistakes, some of which have tragic consequences for himself and for those around him.

Stunned by military defeat, barbarian invasion, political instability and religious strife, the Roman Empire of the late 4th century and early 5th century was a society facing an identity crises.   Who are we as a people? What made our civilization great? Was it war or was it virtue?  What is to become of us and our culture? Is there hope? And critical to Restless Heart: Why are we failing now and who is to blame?  The drama of the fall of Rome is the stage upon which we watch the unfolding of the life of Augustine from his birth in the 350s AD to his death in Hippo in 430 AD.  Duguay cleverly surrounds Augustine with richly drawn characters and settings that bring this world and it’s citizens to life.

Our fascination with biographical films lies not with learning what happens to the protagonist but observing how he navigates through his world.  If it’s done right a good biographical film will draw us into the hero’s world where we experience vicariously his struggles and triumphs.  Reflecting on the hero’s life helps us to bring into sharper focus our own lives by enabling us to seeing it from a new perspective.

Teenagers will identity with young Augustine’s frustration as his intellectual potential is thwarted by his father’s low expectations.  Young adults will see themselves as Augustine works his way through the early days of his career using his uncanny mind and skills as a master orator and lawyer.   We see Augustine fall in love and redefine his relationship with his older parents.  We also see our future as an elderly  Bishop Augustine painfully lets go of his life’s work and his beloved niece in one final triumphful stand against the coming darkness.  In short, this is life and it’s fascinating as it plays out before our eyes.

Throughout our lives we are touched by mentors and we would not be who we are today without their wise counsel and timely intervention.  For Augustine,  his mentors also play key roles.  The film’s drama comes from how those relationships evolve over time from advocate to adversary or from adversary to friendship:

Monica, Augustine’s mother whose love and prayers supported Augustine throughout his restless search for meaning and truth

Monica

Romanianus, the wealthy olive grower who financially sponsors Augustine’s education

Romanianus

Macrobius, a successful lawyer and orator who became Augustine’s teacher and law partner

Macrobius

Valerius, Augustine’s lifetime friend whose ambitions are tied to Augustine’s success

Valerius

Khalida, Augustine’s mistress and mother of his son who at times demonstrates more wisdom and compassion than Augustine

Khalida

Catholic Bishop Ambrose whose intellect and rhetorical skills were more than a match for Augustine

Ambrose

OK, where do you find this movie? Here’s where it gets interesting . The original version was produced in 2010 by well-established Italian film production company Lux Vide and is known as Augustine and the Decline of the Roman Empire. 

In the US, the Catholic book and Film company Ignatius Press marketed an edited and abridged version of the film (losing one hour) for limited theatrical release in North America.  In this format, the film was known as Restless Heart, the Confessions of Augustine.

Later, Ignatius press released a box set with both the short 133 minute version and the 203 minute full version that restores almost all of the footage from Lux Vide’s original production.  This version is also marketed as Restless Heart: The Confessions of Augustine

It can be found here on Amazon : http://www.amazon.com/Restless-Heart-The-Confessions-Augustine/dp/B00GHU35HM/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1/182-9194328-4591960?ie=UTF8&refRID=1B22CSM5HK9E57919S15

And here direct from Ignatius Press:  http://www.ignatius.com/Products/RHRT-M/restless-heart.aspx

My recommendation is to go with the Ignatius Press box set from either Amazon or Ignatius Press.  It includes extras like a 24 page Collector’s Booklet by Fr. David Meconi S.J. who is a Professor of Patristic Theology at  St. Louis University. My second recommendation is to take the out the red short version DVD first and use it as a coaster for your glass of red wine while you watch the full 203 minute version (blue DVD). The short version has been cut so much that the film lost all narrative power and I  recommend that you even bother with  it. Go right for the good stuff, all 203 minutes.

Are you hooked? If so I have special offer. I will send a copy to the first person who contacts me and asks for a copy. I will need your address though and there is one catch: I would ask that you post a review here in the comments section after you view the film

Post Script:  pauca sed matura (Few but ripe)

The personal motto of 18th and 19th century German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss is a good one for bloggers. Its no accident that I decided to hold off on my next post until March 1st.  From now on I will be making all of my future posts on the 1st of the month. So please keep reading and commenting and don’t forget to share this blog with others and see you on April 1st (really!)