Three hours of torture, punctuated by long periods where no-one speaks. We've all been on dates like that. But dates like that rarely also involve wrestling with truths so universal they almost defy words. That's not what Tinder is for.
It is what Silence is for, though. Martin Scorsese's new film of an old novel about idealistic, faith-filled European missionaries in violently anti-Christian 17th century Japan features agonisingly protracted scenes of tortures broad and diverse enough to make the both ISIS and interrogators at Guantanamo take a professional interest. It also features some of the most beautiful and nuanced depictions of faith and asks some of the most profound questions one is likely to see in the cinema. Outside of Moana, obvs.
Silence has been called a masterpiece already. It's also been criticised for not taking into account the point of view of the Japanese persecutors and being too Christian. None of that is important. What's important is that this is a great date movie. So, while you wait for that next hyperglycemic Gosling and Stone fix (coming soon to a clichéd courtship near you), why not push the boat out, land on unfriendly shores and take the object of your affliction to a film that will make them question what love could possibly mean in a world of so much pain? I know, right? Hot.
Here's why Silence is a great date movie:
1. It has the guys from Star Wars and Spiderman in it.
And they're handsome. Well, one of them is. The other is kind of interesting looking. And even if your date is a straight dude, they really are very good. And if you've spent any time at all in the evangelical (or activist Catholic) church that still has non-kidnapped young people in it, you will recognise them. Earnest. Arrogant. Absolutely certain, in that first-half-of-life way, that their faith is in the truth, and that their understanding of truth is complete. The two young priests happily set off in the face of potential martyrdom because it is the right thing to do. If your date is the kind of person to sneer at conviction, or think that suicide bombers are 'cowards' rather than rather too careless with the lives of others, they will, I guess, find much to sneer at here. But they will also see genuine faith. That can only go well for you. You're either going to look very reasonable and sane by comparison or like you quietly reflect their passion and bravery, in your own, gentle, non-life-threatening way. Plus, you're probably prettier than the interesting-looking one.
2. It's horrible
Silence really has a lot of torture in it. I can't really watch torture, even the light stuff, without changing my views on eternal conscious torment and grace for a while. It makes me angry. The torture in Silence makes me cry. It feels inevitable as a tide, inescapable as gravity, natural as a volcanic spring. It is awful, horrific and unjustifiable, and yet its architects are sane, reasonable, charming, even. They are protecting their country. They are not interested in owning anyone's soul - just making them admit that their souls aren't more important than worldly concerns. And like a horror film, a rollercoaster or weekend with relatives' toddlers, the harrowing experience leaves you with inhibitions broken down, jadedness chipped away and your mind and heart open. Bow chicka bow wow.
3. It's deep. Like for real. (Spoilers!)
Watching the torture is hard. Watching the torture being watched is harder. It is the priests' anguish as they see others tortured on their behalf that is the crux of the film. Any twentysomething fundamentalist will die for their faith. How many will pretend the Truth is not true for it? How many will sacrifice their religion for their faith? Truth is at the centre of the film - it is why the priests are there. It's why they hold firm. They believe it to be universal - beyond borders and cultural specificity. And yet only in giving up the Truth they hold so dear and apostatising do they really attain a truly universal understanding of (and encounter with) God. That's a hard message for evangelicals and atheists. But it's also great date chat.
Look them in the eye, take their hand and say: "I think that when they do not assert their rightness, when they abandon the name of Christ to identify with his mercy more even than his suffering, they arrive at the truth that only the ingenious torture of making others suffer for your convictions can bring them. Baby." Then lean over and softly brush a strand of hair from their face with your fingers. That will convince them that, while this body is just a temporal vessel for spirit and truth, it's a vessel that's worth tearing the shirt off.
4. It's beautiful. And true.
Have a few drinks before you watch Silence. But not too many. Even though it doesn't feel longer than Rogue One, it probably is. And the last half hour will be hard not to fall asleep in if you're too drunk. You want to be able to wonder dreamily if every meticulously lit and framed scene is not just meant to evoke a painting, but if the painting style changes. Silence seems to start with a European aesthetic, some scenes feeling like Rembrandt, in religious mood, had painted them. Later, you can picture the action on a delicate Japanese screen, cherry-blossom light passing through it. But that may just be the booze talking. The point is, Silence is beautiful. Visually and in terms of content. There are depictions of love, courage and resigned, dirty-fingernailed forgiveness that make you weep. Because they are true.
The film is true. The Shogun oppressors are not portrayed as monsters any more than the missionaries are painted as morons. They could be either, depending on your convictions. And even then, I think you would have to be a little simple to pick a side so easily. I hope your date isn't simple. That will make it hard. Having worked with missionaries for over twelve years, and heard countless stories of the real and brutal persecution they have seen first-hand, I'm preprogrammed for outrage here. And yet, in Scorsese's Japanese noblemen I see mostly the arrogance of class and the bemusement a seriously religious person often encounters from those without faith. 'Why do you have to be difficult about this?' Or, in the words of the urbane translator-torturer in the film: "This is just a formality." We all know this isn't worth all the pain. And that, of course, is the question of the film. Is Truth worth that pain? Is anything?
If telling truth about truth, of asking those questions that go to the heart of what it is to exist doesn't get your date just a little bit hot, then why are you with them? You know there are theology faculties chock full of tasty trinitarians, philosophy faculties heaving with sexy seekers, right?
Or, you know, you can go for someone who doesn't think persecution is romantic...Suggest a correction