Barefoots coffee shop was crowded Friday night, March 3, as students filled the coffee shop for the screening of the Martin Scorsese film “Silence.”
When you go to watch a movie, sometimes there is a nervous excitement, an anticipation of a celebration. When Dr. Huelin quieted the murmuring audience before the screening of the Scorsese film, however, the crowd held an active solemnity, as if they were preparing for an ordeal.
The film was intense. Scorsese’s film deals with the violent and horrific persecution of the 17th century Japanese Christians. The film, based on Shusaku Endo’s novel of the same name, centers around questions of faith, apostasy and sacrifice.
The intensity of the film caused many audience members to, at times, open their phones, take detailed notes, or, with one viewer, crochet for some relief from the spiritual and physical suffering on screen.
After the film, Scott Huelin, director of the honors community and professor of English, lead a discussion group with several members of Union’s faculty. The Honors Community, along with Barefoots, sponsored the event.
Few students left after watching the movie, as if they needed to talk about what they had just seen.
The first member of the panel, John Netland, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has a particular in the film. Netland grew up in Japan and has written academically on Shusaku Endo’s work, even teaching the book in classes at Union.
“A film critic recently referred to it as a novel that won’t behave,” Netland said, calling the book challenging and difficult.
Nathan Finn, dean of the School of Theology & Missions and professor of Christian Thought and Tradition, brought a theological perspective to the panel, speaking, along with the other panelists, on the theological implications and questions the film draws and asks.
The final panelist, noted author Ted Kluck, assistant professor of communication arts, brought film-based expertise. Kluck has written and produced his own film, Silverdome.
“He’s a guy who loves movies,” Huelin said.
The film brought up issues of apostasy and the renunciation of the Christian faith. Finn mentioned that the issue of apostasy has been a difficult one in the church’s history.
“What do you do with those folks who then come back?” he said.
Finn brought up the seemingly contrasting accounts in Scripture with regards to apostasy. He mentioned apostate apostles returning to the fold and verses like Matthew 10:33: “But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
Finn mentioned the complexity of the issue leading many in the church to assuming that this question is to be dealt with on a case by case basis.
Netland mentioned the film’s extensive use a metaphor for Japan as a swamp, where the roots of the Gospel are claimed to not be able to take root. He also provided much context for the movie as a depiction of the novel. He mentioned how this is one of the few books he teaches that his students will admit to reading ahead—even though it’s 2:30 in the morning.
Netland also mentioned the importance of caution about perspective when discussing stories about such intense suffering.
“I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve never lived in a situation of intense persecution,” he said.
Kluck, who has written several books on Christianity, emphasized how painful the film was.
“I don’t know if you rewatch a movie like this,” Kluck said. “This is not an enjoyer.”
Kluck also mentioned how the film showed that the director cared more about his art and the message presented than pleasing the audience.
“I’m glad that he doesn’t regard the audience,” he said.
The group discussion was intense and long. Huelin had to cut it off before all the questions had been asked.
David Bannister, a freshman intercultural studies major, said that the event was helpful for him.
“It was helpful to hear others thoughts and see that others were wrestling with the same questions I was,” Bannister said.