Essays

Essays:

 

 


Excerpts:

 

Page 34-35 of ‘Therapy and Desire; Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics’

…Cicero said that deductive argument does little to engage the ordinary hearer, or to probe into and alter the hearer’s life. The philosopher who records and systematizes ordinary beliefs can use familiar dialectical arguments. She can elicit the ordinary beliefs by calm questioning and then do whatever dialectical manoeuvring needs to be done to achieve consistency. Medical philosophy cannot take this course. . . For its task requires delving deep into the patient’s psychology and, ultimately, challenging it and changing it. Calm dialectic does not probe deep enough to elicit hidden fears, frustrations, angers, attachments. If confusions are rooted deeply enough, it will not find them.

Thus medical philosophy, while committed to logical reasoning, and to marks of good reasoning such as clarity, consistency, rigor, and breadth of scope, will often need to search for techniques that are more complicated and indirect, more psychologically engaging, than those of conventional deductive or dialectical argument. [27] It must find ways to delve into the pupil’s inner world, using gripping examples, techniques of narrative, appeals to memory and imagination-all in the service of bringing the pupil’s whole life in to the investigative process.

Imagine, for example, how workers from the rural development authority would need to speak to the woman in rural India who says she does not want more education, if they want her to take the idea seriously and care about what they have to say. Clearly, a one-shot logical argument would do nothing to engage her; such a procedure would only reinforce her conviction that education has nothing to do with her. Nor would the exchange get very far if the development workers sat down with her like Aristotle in his schoolroom and asked her a number of calm and intellectual questions about what she thinks and says. But suppose, instead, they spent a long time with her , sharing her way of life and entering into it. Suppose, during this time, they vividly set before her stories of ways in which the lives of women in other parts of the world have been transformed by education of various types- all the while eliciting, from careful listening over a long period of time, in an atmosphere of trust that they would need to work hard to develop, a rich sense of what she has experienced, whom she takes herself to be, what at a deeper level she believes about her own capacities and their actualization. If they did all this, and did it with the requisite sensitivity, imagination, responsiveness, and open-mindedness, they might over time discover that she does indeed experience some frustration and anger in connection with her limited role; and she might be able to recognize and to articulate wishes and aspirations for herself that she could not have articulated to Aristotle in the classroom. In short, through narrative, memory, and friendly conversation, a more complicated view of the good might begin to emerge. In short, what philosophy needs, practiced in the medical way, is an account of complex human interactions of a philosophical kind. And for this it needs to think about the uses of the imagination, about narrative, about community, about friendship, about the rhetorical and literary forms in which an argument may be effectively housed. Each Hellenistic school does this in its own way. But all agree that philosophy is a complex form of life with complex arts of speech and writing.

[27] For a contemporary argument along similar lines, see Charles Taylor (1993 ).

 


From Solitude to Solidarity; How Camus Left Nihilism Behind

By late 1942, shortly before he entered the French Resistance, Camus was reassessing the limits of absurdity. What would the world make of a thinker who announced: “Up to now I was going in the wrong direction. I am going to begin all over”? It didn’t matter, he shrugged. He, at least, knew it was proof that “he is worthy of thought.” Absurdity, he saw, was nothing more than a first step toward the truth. In his private journal, he wrote that the absurd “teaches nothing.” Instead of looking only at ourselves, as do Sisyphus or Nietzsche’s superman, we must look to others: We are condemned to live together in a precarious, unsettling world. “The misery and greatness of this world: it offers no truths, but only objects for love. Absurdity is king, but love saves us from it.”

Love saves us from absurdity. At this point, Camus shed Nietzsche: Commitment to others becomes primordial in a world streaked by the absurd. This is the subject of The Rebel, a book conceived during the occupation and published in 1952. The rebel, affirms Camus, rejects not just metaphysical, but also political absurdity: namely, a state’s insistence on giving meaning to the unjustifiable suffering it inflicts on its citizens. The rebel not only says “no” to an unspeaking universe, but also says “no” to an unjust ruler. The rebel “refuses to allow anyone to touch what he is. He is fighting for the integrity of one part of his being. He does not try, primarily, to conquer, but simply to impose”—to impose himself on a meaningless world, as well as on those who deny his humanity.

Most critically, however, the rebel seeks to impose a limit on his own self. Rebellion is an act of defense, not offense; it is equipoise, not a mad charge against an opponent. Ultimately, it requires an active watchfulness in regard to the humanity of others as well as oneself. Just as the absurd never authorizes despair, much less nihilism, a tyrant’s acts never authorize one to become tyrannical in turn. The rebel does not deny his master as a fellow human being, he denies him only as his master; and he resists the inevitable temptation to dehumanize his former oppressor.

For Camus, rebellion lives only as long as does the balance between daring and prudence. Hence Camus’s embrace of a profoundly un-Nietzschean “philosophy of limits.” Since we cannot know everything, this philosophy argues that we cannot do anything we please to others. Rebellion, unlike revolution, “aspires to the relative and can only promise an assured dignity coupled with relative justice. It supposes a limit at which the community of man is established.” Revolution comes easily, while rebellion “is nothing but pure tension.”

Ultimately, rebellion means unending self-vigilance: It is the art of active restraint. At the end of The Rebel, Camus declared that our task is to “serve justice so as not to add to the injustice of the human condition, to insist on plain language so as not to increase the universal falsehood, and to wager, in spite of human misery, for happiness.” His many critics dismissed this phrase as mere grandiloquence, a heroic glibness disguising an absence of deep thought. Yet the truth of the matter is that there is nothing glib or easy about Camus’s claim. Instead, it recognizes the difficulty, doubts, and desperation tied to true rebellion, and the realization we must live with provisional outcomes.


Anarchism and Animal liberation; Essays on Complementary Elements of Total Liberation

This is also strikingly similar to the nomadic ethics proposed by Deleuze and Guattari, which I have explored at length elsewhere (Eloff 2010, 2013). In brief, for Deleuze nomadic ethics requires epistemological humility; it is anti-essentialist and non-normative, situated and contingent and emerges from situations themselves instead of being imposed upon them. It is an immanent ethics of experimentation that appeals to nothing outside of itself, a bio-centered, nonanthropocentric egalitarianism that recognizes our enfolding of and enfoldment within the world around us and a care for the self that is immediately a care for the not-self, for the infinitely complex web of relations within, and which are, our shared habitats. It is a practice of becoming together in constant differenciation, in affirmation of a deeper principle of difference, of differentiation, with an enhanced sense of situated accountability that “enlarges the sense of collectively bound subjectivity to non-human agents, from our genetic neighbours the animals, to the earth as a biosphere as a whole” (Braidotti 2006, p. 136).


The Politics of Post Anarchism by Saul Newman

The politics of resistance to the biopolitical order of state capitalism suggests the possibility of an outside to this order; of points of rupture and anteriority in which we see a glimpse of alternative ways of life. While we must acknowledge the pervasiveness of this order and its formidable power, we should at the same time be able to discern its cracks, vulnerabilities and inconsistencies. Massimo de Angelis makes the important point – taking a certain distance from Hardt and Negri – that the order confronted by radical political struggles today is not complete or all- encompassing: it is, on the contrary, subject to tensions, discontinuities and moments of rupture which leave openings for alternative social relationships to emerge. Indeed, he argues that there is more to our world than capitalism; that we already engage in social relationships that are not completely subsumed by capitalism, although their autonomy is always threatened by it.

It is a matter, then, of expanding the realm of these alternative practices, relationships and ‘value struggles’ – of expanding the dimension of what de Angelis calls the commons, in opposition to the colonising tendencies of capitalism. We should also recognise, with Foucault, the reversibility of power relationships, even those that seem so overwhelming; that while power might be ubiquitous, it is also characterised by instabilities and moments of resistance.


Spectacular Times: Images and Everyday Life by Larry Law

We live in a spectacular society, that is, our whole life is surrounded by an immense accumulation of spectacles. Things that were once directly lived are now lived by proxy. Once an experience is taken out of the real world it becomes a commodity. As a commodity the spectacular is developed to the detriment of the real. It becomes a substitute for experience.

Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work by James Scott [page 79-80]

The question I want to pose is this: Are the authoritarian and hierarchical characteristics of most contemporary life-world institutions- the family, the school, the factory, the office, the worksite–such that they produce a mild form of instituional neurosis? At one end of an institutional continuum one can place the total institutions that routinely destroy the autonomy and initiative of their subjects. At the other end of this continuum lies, perhaps, some ideal version of Jeffersonian democracy composed of independant, self-reliant, self-respecting, landowning farmers, managers of their own small enterprises, answerable to themselves, free of debt, and more generally with no institutional reason for servility or deference. Such free standing farmers, Jefferson thought, were the bases of a vigorous and independent public sphere where citizens could speak their mind without fear or favor. Somewhere in between these two poles lies the contemporary situation of most citizens of Western democracies: a relatively open public sphere but a quotidian institutional experience that is largely at cross purposes with the implicit assumptions behind this public sphere and encouraging and often rewarding caution, deference, servility, and conformity. Does this engender a form of institutional neurosis that saps the vitality of civic dialogue? And, more broadly, do the the cumulative effects of life within the patriarchal family, the state and other hierarchical institutions produce a more passive subject who lacks the spontaneous capacity for mutuality so praised by both anarchist and liberal democratic theorists?

If it does, then an urgent task of public policy is to foster institutions that expand the independence, autonomy, and capacities of the citizenry. How is it possible to adjust the institutional lifeworld of citizens so that it is more in keeping with the capacity for democratic citizenship?

3. Community Forestry in Nepal: Decentralized Forest Governance
http://bit.ly/2mGHwEc
4. Anxiety, affective struggle, and precarity consciousness-raising
http://bit.ly/2ncEj37
5. Emotions and Emotional Labor at Worker-Owned Businesses: Deep Acting, Surface Acting, and Genuine Emotions
http://bit.ly/2nqjSAk
6. Spectacular Times: Images and Everyday Life by Larry Law
http://bit.ly/2n5niaH
7. Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work by James Scott
http://bit.ly/2mjrIvu

Calvary: A religious movie for atheists.

Following Darren Aronofsky’s confused Noah, John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary strikes miraculous middle ground for a religious movie.

I’m an atheist, though I’m loathe to use the word, referring to myself as an atheist seems like an admission that there’s a god I’m choosing to ignore, that I’m some hipster who thinks a refusal to believe will go nicely with my vinyl collection and ill-advised body art. Atheist derives from the Greek word atheos, or godless, which makes people like me sound like chicken-killing heathens rather than what we are: people who believe in whats apparent rather than whats not, who believe that humankind created God the same way it created now-unfashionable deities like Bacchus or Wotan and not the other way around. But, for the sake of brevity, I suppose I’m an atheist.

As an atheist, Ive struggled with religious movies. I could never relate in the way that anybody can relate to, say, love stories.

As a result, Ive always struggled with religious movies. Its one of the very few sub-genres that can come across as eminently alien to people like me. Scorsese has always been one of my favourite filmmakers, but his religious symbolism, and especially the Catholic guilt felt by some of his lead characters, never made much sense to me. The meaning was lost, because I couldn’t relate in the way that anybody can relate to love stories, for example. And films more overtly about faith, like Scorsese’s own The Last Temptation of Christ, I outright don’t understand.

Darren Aronofsky’s recently released Noah, so eccentric a movie it might as well have just been called What?!, is only the first of what is apparently going to be a series of biblical blockbusters coming out of Hollywood. And if the Old Testament story of Noah wasn’t unbelievable enough to someone like me, Aronofsky’s Noah has such uncertain footing between appealing to those with faith and those without that it just comes across as some bizarre, confounding fantasy. I’m not too familiar with the story of Noah, but I’m almost positive scripture doesn’t state that Noah and a gang of angelic stone monsters went to war with an army of bloodthirsty, cockney pirate-people.
Hear more on Noah: Its our take on the religious epic in the SR Filmcast

One standout scene in Noah sees the titular prophet tell the creationist story of how the Earth came to be, while Aronofsky simultaneously shows us images of a more scientifically verifiable history of our world, complete with the obligatory tadpole-to-monkey-to-person evolutionary steps. The director appears cautious to offend either Christians or The Godless Ones with his movie, but by offering two strongly opposing theories side-by-side, he ends up pleasing nobody. It makes the film an irrelevance Aronofsky’s movie highlights the harshness of religious dogma (if youre a fan of infanticide, youll love Noah) at the same time as it panders to the neutral blockbuster crowd, through ludicrous battle sequences and vapid romantic subplots.

John Michael McDonaghs Calvary, on the other hand, is very different, he confirms to infidels like me that religion really does have a place in the modern world. This existential mystery, about a good Catholic priest threatened with murder in the confession box, respects the opinions of non-believers but firmly, quietly, retains its own Christian beliefs. It wholly recognises the age we live in, where people indifferent and even hateful towards the church brush shoulders with clergymen and their rapidly diminishing congregations. It gets that the world is losing faith. And yet, somewhat miraculously, Calvary confirms to infidels like me that religion really does have a place in the modern world.

Ostensibly a black comedy, Calvary is more often frightening than funny. Father Lavelle (a superb Brendan Gleeson) visits a former pupil-turned-cannibalistic serial killer (played to creepy effect by Gleesons real-life progeny, Domhnall) in prison, and asks what human flesh tastes like; he replies, icily, and with sickening relatability, like pheasant its very gamey. Later, the local doctor, in the form of old-reliable Aidan Gillen, relays the story of a procedure gone wrong, in which a young boy was put under a mishandled dose of anaesthetic for a routine operation and subsequently woke up blind, deaf, dumb and paralysed.

In the horror of a world like that our world Calvary doesn’t treat some unseen force, one which it accepts not everyone can relate to, as the saviour. Instead, it is the good man at the heart of this wicked tale, a man driven by a moral code, who acts as the ultimate hero. Calvary makes the argument that the modern church lives not in the service of God, but in the service of people, and its a film that might even make sense of religion for atheists.

Ive not become born again after watching Calvary, but McDonaghs film succeeds where Noah didn’t because it tolerates both believers and non-believers equally, and isn’t as violently opposed one way or the other, in the way that, say, The Passion of the Christ was strictly for and PTA’s cynical There Will Be Blood was vehemently against. It takes a long-overdue stand against loud, unglamorous media reports and counters that not all of religion is corrupted. Calvary is a stunning film, not least because it convincingly argues that there are still good people of faith out there, as it successfully speaks to both the religious and non-religious alike.

 


The Revenant and the Spirituality of Man and Nature 

Nature is of prime importance in Alejandro Inarritu’s The Revenant, it’s not merely the setting of the epic survival story but upon closer examination the natural world can be seen as a pivotal character in the film.

It’s through Hue Glass’s relationship to the wilderness around him that he’s able to embark on and survive his physical, emotional and spiritual journeys. The natural world is present in every shot of the film, usually comprising more of the frame than the actors within it, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s use of wide-angle lenses helped capture the expansive nature around the characters, allowing the locations to become more than mere scenery but a part of the story telling.

His use of mostly natural lighting also emphasizes the omnipresence and significance of nature for the men of The Revenant, whenever we see the men – the high trees in the distance are towering over them from all sides lurking behind and around them in an almost threatening manner – the wilderness crowds the fur trappers into the centre of the frame, engulfing them and at times obstructing them from the cameras view as if a reminder of nature’s dominance a warning to abide by mother nature’s rules.

The film continually reminds us of this in multiple shots that open with only the bare wilderness, a creek bubbling calmly, a forest of trees standing tall and still, all untouched and placid until the camera slowly pans downwards or upwards to find the men traveling within them.

These moments remind us nature came first and then man leaves, along with the extreme wide shots of landscapes in the film further established the immense scale and the all-encompassing force and power of nature.

The fur trappers and native tribes are only specs within the natural environment, but in order to survive they must learn to coexist with it, the placement of the camera also characterizes Glass’s relation to nature by echoing the evolution of his journey through it. Rarely shooting glass at eye level the camera often hovers slightly above or below him in extreme close-ups of his body and face the angle suggests glass is constantly seeking something out of his reach as the extreme close-ups dislocate him from the nature around him.

We see this sense of longing when the camera shows his POV as he looks upward through the treetops, but what is he looking for? We finally learned this in a flashback as glass looks up through the trees he remembers his wife’s death and envisions her floating above him in the forest instead of looking upward to receive a message from God, Glass finds his wife uttering words of wisdom. Here his love for her becomes the physical manifestation of his faith as his upward perception of nature comes to symbolize a release from suffering, his goal to survive and exact revenge ultimately evolves into a spiritual pilgrimage.

Glass’s visions of his wife hovering above him are strong allusions to the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, most notably the levitating woman in the mirror, we can understand the images of levitation in both films as moments that represent the majestic and holy quality each woman holds in the eyes of the main male character. Glass’s love for his wife literally exalts her to a position above ground just as Aleksei in the mirror envisions his young mother floating in a dream sequence in in Inurito’s film Glass’s wife becomes the spiritual symbol of absolution, hope and strength.

But many of Glass’s visions also represent his internal struggle with cultural identity, unlike the other white fur trappers Glass is shown to have a deeper connection with nature, especially with the Pawnee tribe he once lived with, though in the eyes of Fitzgerald – Glass has betrayed his men by once killing a lieutenant – however glass shows that he holds some shame for his past, when he fails to stand up for his son Hawk and then angrily reprimands him in front of the other men it’s clear glass is caught between two lives, the life of his Pawnee family in the past and the one of a fur trapper in the present.

This dichotomy is shown in Glass’s vision where he finds himself in front of a dilapidated church, the walls of the European church within the natural landscape reflect the duality of Glass’s cultural affiliations. The ruins mirroring the pain of his past. Here his identity as a westerner and his affinity with the Pawnee tribe merged in a dreamlike state filled with longing and grief.

This scene strongly recalls the final shot of Tarkovsky’s film ‘Nostalgia’ in which Andre, a Russian writer, travels through Italy longing for his home country. Andre completes a journey across an empty pool with the lit candle, in the film’s famous nine-minute scene, a testament to faith and perseverance that in ways reflects Glass’s own journey in ‘The Revenant.’ Afterwards Andre suddenly falls to his death and the last shot of the film finds him sitting in front of his Russian farmhouse as the camera slowly pulls back it’s revealed Andre and his dacha are confined within the ruins of an old Italian Cathedral. Here Tarkovsky merges that of dreams and memory to show the unification of a man split by two countries, it captures the melancholic longing of nostalgia and the coexisting space of the past and present. Andre has reached a sense of spiritual resolution in his inner battle, though only in death, Glass is only just beginning his own.

The second Tarkovsky reference in ‘The Revenant’s church sequence provides a little more insight, the icon paintings on the church walls and the ringing bell above, strongly recall the Russian filmmakers Andrei Rublev. In the film’s most memorable sequence, a young boy Briska attempts to cast the bell for a prince, though he has no idea how to, Briska does so on intuition and faith alone knowing that he’ll be killed if he fails. The finished bell finally tolls loudly and triumphant, a powerful moment that stands as a testament to the young boys faith and an inspiration for the painter Andrei Rublev.

And Yuri too explores the power of faith in his dream sequence as well, though Glass embraces his son, the very next moment he’s alone in the church hugging only a tree, the bell ringing above Glass’s head as he falls into the mud, similar to the overwhelmed Beriska. It’s a symbol of his continuing strength, a reminder of the hope that can follow loss. Glass may no longer have Hawk his last connection to the Pawnee people, but the one thing that does remain is the physical and spiritual presence of nature and how it can help him survive.

The dream sequence signifies a shift in Glass’s relationship to nature, one that moves away from the Westerners side of his identity, after awaking from the dream, Glass rescues a Cree woman from French fur trappers, then literally using the resources around him to survive, Glass climbs into the carcass of a dead horse, when he emerges the camera lingers on tranquil shots of the sun shining through trees around him, it’s a shot largely reminiscent of Lopezkeys work with Terrence Malick, in which nature also has a spiritual element.

As he prepares to leave, the camera positions Glass in the background of the shot with a large branch emerging into the foreground, after laying his hand on the horse, Glass looks around and upwards as if giving thanks to the wilderness for saving his life, in this moment he’s become more part of the natural scenery, no longer detached from it as implied by the disembodied close-ups earlier in the film.

Once glass has exacted his revenge, the killing of Fitzgerald begins to symbolize more than simply getting justice for his son. In defeating Fitzgerald Glass has also defeated the shame and the suffering of the past he’s carried with him, once the Cree pass by silently acknowledging that he’s not like the other ruthless fur trappers, Glass begins his ascent upwards, literally and metaphorically, he sees a vision of his wife ahead of him on the mountain and in turning away from him she grants him the emotional and spiritual absolution he’s been seeking. In a final shot that again recalls nostalgia and the mirror, Glass slowly turns his gaze into the camera, no longer looking up at the view of the treetops with him, we finally meet his eyes as he finds peace in the flurry of the storm.


Silence review: the last temptation of Liam Neeson in Scorsese’s shattering epic

The silence of God – or the deafness of man – is the theme of Martin Scorsese’s epic new film about an ordeal of belief and the mysterious, ambiguous heroism involved in humiliation and collaboration. It is about an apparent sacrifice in the service of the greater good, and a reckoning deferred to some unknowable future time. The possibility of reaching some kind of accommodation with the enemy, and not knowing if this is a disavowal of pride or a concession to the greatest sin of all, is a topic that Scorsese last touched upon in The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, in which Jesus sees a future of peace and ordinary comfort.

Silence is a drama about Christian martyrdom, and like all such films, from Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc to Fred Zinnemann’s A Man for All Seasons, it must address an atheist counter-sensibility aware that the Catholic Inquisition itself saw no difficulty in putting perceived heretics to death, and that arguably their own martyrs are therefore ineligible for lenient humanist sympathy. In fact, in this movie there is a fierce debate about the opposition of Christianity and Buddhism, of Europe and Asia, and about the relativism of faith.
Martin Scorsese film recalls martyrdom of Japan’s hidden Christians
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Silence is not without flaws. Perhaps the casting of its stars, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, could have been reversed, to place more emphasis on Driver as the stronger performer, though Garfield’s boyish screen personality becomes haunted and complex. There is something a little broad about the moments in which a priest sees visions of Christ in himself. Yet with ambition and reach, and often a real dramatic grandeur, Scorsese’s film has addressed the imperial crisis of Christian evangelists with stamina, seriousness and a gusto comparable to David Lean’s.

In 17th-century Lisbon, two fiercely committed missionary priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver), are told disturbing news by their confessor Valignano (Ciarán Hinds) concerning their much loved and admired mentor figure, Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Ferreira had journeyed to Japan many years before to challenge its brutal suppression of Christianity and to spread the word, but has now reportedly been forced to recant his faith under torture, and is living as a Buddhist with a Japanese wife and children. Astonished and outraged, the two young Jesuits refuse to believe it and demand to be allowed to travel to Japan to track him down and discover the truth.

Scorsese shows that their journey has something Conradian about it, and that Ferreira is a kind of Kurtz figure, albeit a Kurtz who has achieved nothing like a colonial kingdom. As the two men make their furtive landfall in Japan, they make tensely secret contact with fugitive believers who live in terror of being found out, and the priests entertain an orientalist stereotype of the supposed Japanese inscrutability: “Secrecy has made their faces into masks.”

Rodrigues and Garrpe seem like the proselytisers of the early Christian church, or even the apostles themselves. Driver’s gaunt and blazingly passionate face even makes him look a little like the traditional rendering of Jesus. But the examples of Judas the betrayer and Peter the denier are the ones that suggest themselves. Because everywhere, the authorities are crushing Christian communities, offering rewards for informers, and the priests’ mere presence brings their congregants into terrible danger. Suspected believers are ordered symbolically to trample a figure of Jesus underfoot: sometimes the inquisitor will be content with a relatively perfunctory step on the figure, but for more serious dissidents, spitting on the crucified Christ is needed. And there is the cruelty of torture and martyrdom: Christians can be lowered into a pit to bleed to death, or crucified in the surf for a quasi-drowning ordeal, or burned at the stake.

But Rodrigues is to come into contact with the sinuously calm, even almost charming Inquisitor Inoue and his interpreter (excellent performances from Issey Ogata and Tadanobu Asano), whose purpose is far more subtle: to show what torture looks like – rather as the Inquisition simply showed Galileo the instruments of cruelty – but then persuade the priest to renounce Christianity on rational grounds. Playing their strongest card, they produce poor, mortified Ferreira, who after years of threats and indoctrination has internalised his captors’ views, denying that the Catholic church was ever believed in that country, and claiming that the Japanese had simply followed a muddled, pantheistic sun-worship sect and mistook it for Christianity.

All the time, the priests are tormented by God’s silence, and the question of whether this is the same as absence, or if God’s refusal to intervene has become an unimaginable and intolerable cruelty. “How can I explain his silence to these people?” As the drama continues, the silence is broken for Rodrigues: but it is, ambiguously, a voice in his own head, giving him advice similar to that which he had himself given to cowering Japanese peasants early in the story.

Silence is a movie of great fervour that resolves itself into a single thought: if a believer is forced to recant, yet maintains a hidden impregnable core of secret faith, a hidden finger-cross, is that a defeat or not? God sees all, of course, including the way a public disavowal of faith has dissuaded hundreds or thousands from believing. Is the public theatre of faith more important than a secret bargain with a silent creator? It is a question kept on a knife-edge. Martin Scorsese’s powerful, emotional film takes its audience on a demanding journey with a great sadness at its end.