Category: Film


AMDG

360946-jpg-c_215_290_x-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx‘This is a spiritual & cultural artefact’ – was how a producer at the BBC described Scorsese’s recent adaptation of the Shusako Endo novel ‘Silence‘.   A work of historical fiction, i.e based on real characters, about the Jesuits in Japan.  Having seen the film about a month ago, I tend to agree, although the cinema was fairly empty and I notice there is no ‘awards buzz’ about it – I think it will grow in stature and popularity.  I hope it will slowly acquire cult status, it doesn’t have the feel-good, crowd pleasing appeal that LaLa Land has ( and surely people need that in our fragmented times) …. but it has a depth and leaves a ‘haunting’ imprint that will mature over time. Like an artefact it will stand the test of time.

If you think about explicitly Christian films that have gone mainstream, all have differing levels of depth. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, in its own way a masterpiece – has the force of a sledgehammer and I would place it in the Key Stage 3 RE category.  Roland Joffe’s The Mission, slightly more complex interweaving of theology / politics/ ecclesiology maybe would be GCSE, (Key Stage 4) Level.  But Scorsese’s Silence – is certainly A Level (KS5) material – with all its glorious and infuriating ambiguities. Leaving scope for discussion and meditation.

landscape-1482951700-martin-scorsese-silence-religion-on-filmHere in Manchester – many of the students are divided by it, and fascinating discussions ensue.  Some get hung up on the priests apostasy and a sense of betrayal from that, without taking into fact the incredible commitment and self-offering that have got the missionaries their in the first place. In a similar way many of the reviews are polarised.  The more secularised, the less they ‘get it’ – including one absurd review accusing it of ‘torture porn’ (I actually thought the film wasn’t as harrowing as I was expecting). It is as though the sheer fact that you can believe in something enough that you are prepared to die for it. is inconceivable to the more superficial reviews.  Many people (even the usually prescient Robert Barron)  seem to fixated on the ‘apostasy’ element. Which I think misses the point of the film (and the novel).  For me Kichijiro is the main character in the film – and it is God’s Mercy for him , through sacramental confession, this is the most powerful aspect for me.

silence-00977A former student sent me a wonderful email which expresses it like this, “I found myself really focusing on more in the film was the mercy of God, which I think is and should be the big focus within the film and book. The question: How much should I forgive my brother? Seventy seven.  Is something I often thought about when watching this film especially when witnessing Kichijiro continuously plead for confession. For me Fr. Rodriguez and Fr Ferreira are insignificant as for me really the true Christian is perfectly embodied in Kichijiro. As he is what a christian really is: a sinful and weak creature totally dependent on God’s mercy. Interestingly Kichijiro does not really seem to care about human respect or his reputation as seen by his continuous grovelling and humiliating display of weakness before the priest. To me I think the book and film do a great job in showing this about Kichijiro and the mercy of God; but seem to overlook it and get a bit too obsessed with somehow trying to justify someone’s apostasy.    The real question I think is how much are we willing to accept our weakness and plead for forgiveness

Maybe this is echoing Scorsese own life – as revealed in this fascinating interview with the America Jesuit James Martin,  his sense of rejection at a crucial age when he wanted to be a Maryknoll Missionary. He was asked to leave the seminary, and ‘crushed’ in his own words,  and then his ‘pilgrimage’ slowly and painfully from the outside and back to God (?) . Jim has also written a very good  reflective piece on common questions people struggle with after Silence.   So is Silence really about about the Silence of God or the Deafness of Man? .

 

 

 

AMDG

Cheap-FlightOne of the great paradoxes of our time is global travel.  For those of us in the wealthy world, hopping on a plane has become as easy as travelling by bus.  In the Uk with companies such as Ryan Air, and Easy Jet pioneering low cost travel, our expectations have been raised considerably. I remember the first flight I had when I was about 10 – our whole family dressed up as though it was a special occasion.  Now it is run of the mill.  As globalisation shrinks the world, many are being left behind.  So for those who can’t afford to be ‘hypermobile’ it seems as though the rich world are building bigger barriers to restrict their movement.  I was in Istanbul airport a day before the terrorist attacks…  an incredible modern hub, with Wifi everywhere, Starbucks, wealthy tourists, business travelers mingling in a bubble of luxury and affluence.  But these Staging Posts for the hypermobile are becoming targets for rage and anger of the excluded (not that terrorism can be  justified ) .

Elysium-wallpapers-141There was a brilliant film – released in 20013 called Elysium.  It is from the incredibly rich vein of dystopian scifi.  Imagining a future where Planet Earth has been plundered of resources by the wealthy Elite and left as an overpopulated desert for the poor majority.  The elite have created a space station in orbit which they have escaped to – where everything is beautiful green, fertile, the Elysium of the films title.  The Spaceships that shuttle between the two are looked at with envy and despair by the majority of humanity reduced to scrabbling around a parched earth like chickens.  Interestingly the church is represented by this wonderful nun who we discover in a back-story  has been the transformative teacher to our Hero (played by Matt Damon)  – who is an orphan.  So even though the rich have abandoned the earth – the church has not abandoned the poor.  Perhaps Neil Blomkampf, the writer, has had some Catholic influence?

_90030142_033584780-1Sadly however our age of hypermobility sharply contrasts with the fear of immigration that Farage and his cronies whipped up in the poisonous discourse before Brexit.  The rhetoric of ‘taking control’ of our borders seemed to be very effective, but perhaps implausible in a Globalising Economy.  I thank God for my Irish grandparents so I can now apply for dual citizenship – again a luxury for the wealthy.    Having crossed a few borders in the last months it was notable in East Africa that there was a tightening of checks on the borders…  partly because of the yellow fever outbreak in Angola. We have to acknowledge our fears, but when it leads us to build barriers I think we are losing out.  In a choice between Donald Trumps wall building and Pope Francis’ bridge building, I know what future I want.

AMDG

This is the homily I gave yesterday in Sacred Heart Edinburgh for the 14th Sunday, Year C. 

Book_of_eli_posterFour years ago there was a fascinating film released called the Book of Eli (spoiler alerts!).  It was set in a post-apocalyptic America and stars Denzil Washington who is on a special mission taking a valuable parcel to a safe spot on the West Coast of America.  It is a dangerous mission because post-apocalyptic America is lawless, most of the population are dead, no institutions are left standing, there is no law and order – Just groups of violent gangs – killing and robbing…..

It becomes clear that the parcel our hero is carrying is seen as very valuable.  He has to fight off many groups who wish to take it from him, I should warn you that it is quite a violent film.  You are left wondering – what is in this parcel that everyone is trying to get …..  well it is a surprise to find out that is only a book…..  It turns out that in this post-apocalyptic world many libraries have been destroyed and so there is a community that has based itself on a remote Island – where Alcatraz used to be – and the mission of this community is to try to rebuild a library and thus preserve what is left of human knowledge.

Our hero is trying to get the book to this island – then he encounters a gang who realise how precious this book is…. And for the second part of the film they hunt him down…. In one speech the leader played by Gary Oldham says

Don’t you see? It’s not just any book.  It has the power to motivate people. It can give them hope, it can terrify them. It can shape them. Control them. That book is a weapon. Aimed right at the hearts and minds of people,  Just imagine  what I could do with it.

bookofeli011You might have realised by now that the book that he is carrying is the only surviving copy of the Bible….  His mission is to get it to safety.    Another twist is that it comes apparent that our hero is blind – which is a shock when you realise how adept he is at fighting people off.  It becomes clear that he has an incredible sense of hearing and also claims he is being led by the light of his faith…….  Unfortunately towards the end of the film Gary Oldman’s gang catch up with him seriously wounding him and capturing this precious book.  Then the final twist – when the only surviving Bible is delivered to the baddy  – he opens it up to find out that is written in Braille…. He can’t understand it …. Meanwhile the wounded hero has just made it to Alcatraz – aware that he is slowly dying – he waves away treatment because he has an urgent task – and the final scene is him lying down surrounded by secretary’s – as he starts dictating the Book of Genesis …. in his long journey across America he has memorised the whole of the Bible.

This film reminded me how we have lost a sense of the power of the Bible – we take it for granted – for many of us we only expose ourselves to it when we listen at mass – and even then sometimes we are only half-listening.  Gary Oldman’s character is right – the Bible is dangerous when we take it seriously  – The New Testament especially has had a huge impact on shaping the world, even in a secular society – many of our assumptions about justice, about charity, about care, about law – are all hugely formed by the words of the Bible and the New Testament.  It truly has changed societies.

Today’s reading about the Kingship of the Messiah – Zechariah’s prophecy of a king who will bring peace, who will make war obsolete, no need for armies. A king who will ride on a donkey – all of this is turning the logic of the world on its head. Then in the Gospel we hear that the message of this King is only fully accepted by those who become child-like – those who become ego-free, not the childish but those who are child-like. A child who can be blissfully happy in a simple environment, who has a sense of wonder as they discover the world, who has a great openness to life, not preoccupied by status, not worrying about the future – it is only with this childlike openness that we can co-operate with grace, that we can help build this Kingdom.

It is also when we set aside our worries and concerns that we can ‘rest’- Jesus says come to me those of you labour and rest – this isn’t just the rest of sleep – there is a deeper rest than that – there is a recreative rest, have you ever seen a child totally absorbed in play? When we put aside things and get caught up in a great conversation, or absorbed by a fascinating game, or listening to sublime music – it is refreshing, and more than physically resting, it recharges our creative batteries – Jesus wants us to come to him and rest – by savouring his word, by having the courage to go into silent contemplation.

If enough of us take the words of the bible seriously – then they these dreams of a kingdom of peace will become a reality , we will change our lives and become more open. Less interested in ‘Rich Lists’ and ‘Celebrity Culture’ and more in rediscovering wonder and having an open heart. And maybe in a frenetic age – we will rediscover how to rest …. In God’s wisdom and in his love. And that would be worth fighting for ……

Book of Eli on IMDB  (link)