Why Have Christians Ignored ‘Silence?’

Tyler Huckabee, a writer from Nashville, Tennessee, wrote an insightful opinion piece for The Washington Post on January 19, essentially saying that Christians (and by extension Hollywood) largely ignore well-made movies dealing with faith.

You may have noticed that recently, Martin Scorsese released a film entitled, “Silence,” which stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson. The movie is an adaptation of a novel from Shusaku Endo, who published it in 1966. The film has not performed as well as other “hit” Christian movies like “God’s Not Dead.” Despite the $46.5 million price tag on making the film, it has only garnered slightly over $8.7 million in worldwide box office revenue.

One should sit back and ask why this movie — directed by an international superstar director — has not motivated people of faith to go and see it, especially since Christians constantly claim that Hollywood is against them.

Here is Huckabee:

In the same way that there is no one reason Trump won, there is no one reason “Silence” is underperforming. There’s no doubt that the film is a hefty commitment, clocking in at two hours and 40 minutes. And there was an unusual lack of advertising surrounding the release, with its first trailer dropping just one month before the film’s actual premiere.

And then there’s the limited release itself. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “Silence” did good business in New York and Los Angeles, where it first opened. But a wider release to slightly smaller markets has found disastrously little traction so far. The question of whether the film would have done better numbers if it’d expanded into more rural communities where faith audiences are more centralized is one that will keep Paramount execs up. “Silence” had none of the heavy church marketing that accompanied films like “God’s Not Dead” or Mark Burnett’s “Son of God” (both 2014), but “Silence” is a wilder, woolier film than either of those. It is, frankly, a tough sell.

This is absolutely true. Scorsese has been talking about this film since 2007, just after “The Departed” was released in 2006. The acclaimed director has made movies that have included his lifelong search into Catholicism (one might argue that every movie has been part of that, but that’s another post). So why haven’t Christians come along for the ride?

There are two reasons, I think, why Christians didn’t go see the movie. The first is that there is still a very real divide between Catholicism and Protestantism that doesn’t get explored without the two sides blowing up. I listen and read much Catholic literature and programming, and many Catholics see Protestants as heretics. They are outside of the Church, despite their profession of faith in Jesus Christ. On the other hand, Protestants say the same thing, and perhaps go a step further. It might be said of Catholics, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that they don’t see Protestants as completely out of the circle of salvation, but close to it. One might say, they “are not far from the kingdom,” and thus, aren’t headed straight to the pits. I’ve heard many Protestants say that Catholicism is a false gospel, and are therefore, as good, if not worse, than the other “false gospels” that include sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Catholicism has so much truth that people fall into the lie, they proclaim.

Perhaps this has contributed to this lack of fanfare for the movie. It’s similar to when I ask my fellow Protestants whether they’ve read (or heard of) any novels by Graham Greene. They respond by asking me who that is, and then I have to go into a long explanation. But when I ask about Karen Kingsbury, everyone has heard of her.

Another reason is that the movie is a message right at the heart of what many Christians didn’t want to hear after a contentious election cycle. The vast majority of evangelicals voted in favor of a strongman who will turn the country aright again. “Silence,” is not about that. It is not about power. It is about enduring suffering, apostasy, and martyrdom. It’s not about triumph. In fact, even today, there is only one percent of the Japanese population who say they are Christian, despite over 100 million people celebrating Easter in China, according to a BBC report from March 2016, and over half of the population in Korea professing themselves to be Christians. These sorts of themes aren’t marketable for many American evangelicals, who have the desire for America to once again be propped up as a global dominator.

But the Jesus of the Bible doesn’t come this way. He is a suffering servant. He doesn’t die and then restore the kingdom of Israel, and he won’t make America great again (hint: it was always suspect). What he will do is bring people from every tribe, every tongue back to him. That, he promises.