Michelle revisits Catholicism and reviews Martin Scorsese’s Silence and Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope as a “lapsed-Catholic.”
The Resurgence of Catholicism On Screen
By: Michelle Soto
My position on the following film and television debut comes from my personal experiences and I will provide an adequate review of the pieces that are not directly influenced by my stance on the particular subjects (I still may talk about me, so, sorry). I just had to get that off my chest, whew. Recently, two highly anticipated projects from some of the best in the industry were released, and they both surround the faith and tradition of Catholicism. The first is Martin Scorsese’s thirty year project, Silence, a film about Jesuit priests, Christianity in Japan, and apostasy; the second is Paolo Sorrentino’s HBO series The Young Pope, which centers on the arrival of the youngest pope in history, played by Jude Law.
Both focus on faith, however, they do differ distinctly. Silence takes a serious look into faith with Jesuit priests taking on a mission to find their former teacher, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson, with a terribly poor Portuguese accent) , who is believed to have renounced his faith in Japan. The passion project of Scorsese which took almost 30 years to produce feels like a bold account of religion and explores faith in ways so few films have. However, it’s painfully long, too often it becomes boring, and completely unengaging for the better of it’s 161 minute duration. As someone raised in the Catholic faith, who has since become a “lapsed Catholic”, this felt too much like someone took the uncomfortable feeling I would experience growing up, put some stunning visuals behind it, and turned it into Oscar bait. The story never feels important or urgent to the audience, and it moves at an agonizing pace. Visually, cinematically, this is a beautiful film and I could never take that away from it, but the overall end result falls short of the anticipation that surrounded it. The Young Pope on the other hand creates an interesting dynamic between the world inside of the Vatican and pop culture. A weird, not always fluid story of the arrival of the new, young Pope Pius XIII here to shake up the traditions of the Vatican, sometimes emulates the current state of the United States with President Trump. Pope Pius XIII is also American. The Young Pope is bit more engaging than Silence, but moves at a similarly slow pace setting the audience up for losing their interest. Much like in Silence, the main characters are bound by their faith and relationship to God, and their loyalty to Catholicism can be registered as a flaw. However, watching the Young Pope feels easier to digest because it is explicitly about the Vatican and the entire religion. Plus, it takes place in present day versus the 1643 setting directed in Silence. Both projects also tackle the notion of conversations with God and the question of whether or not he is listening. Exemplifying and highlighting the distance between God and his followers and the anxiety affiliated with the silence that becomes deafening to the characters. This leads to apostatizing in Silence, and total reign from the new pope in The Young Pope.
I personally had a hard time sitting through both, simply because I have “removed” myself from Catholicism. I stand firmly on that decision, so when it’s presented to me in an overwhelming way, it tends to feel like borderline propaganda. Silence was excruciatingly reminiscent of the days I would share a pew with my family during mass and hearing the sermon but never listening. The boredom surrounded by being forced into catechism, making my sacraments, and the looming guilt associated with the religion brought back to life while sitting in that audience. I’ll speak to the performances in each, because they are transformative and committed, but they aren’t enough to save the character from the profound unlikeablility they possess. Andrew Garfield’s performance in Silence feels strangely close to his performance in Hacksaw Ridge, so I disengaged with it almost immediately. Adam Driver was incredible and emotionally driven throughout his entire appearance within the film. Physically, mentally, emotionally you felt his struggle and passion. In The Young Pope, Jude Law, plays Father Lenny aka Pope Pius XIII with the pretentious, entitled persona he’s embodied well in other roles. He’s charming and good-looking, and he doesn’t play by the rules of the Vatican, which is rocking the priesthood. However, he’s still not super intriguing and exciting, and that’s where the show starts to lose me.
Overall, I know this review comes off with a bitterness that may discredit my words, but I will still recommend you check both Silence and The Young Pope out, because I believe the individual experience will not match the overall audience experience. I could speak to the long term guilt I’ve had during other films and tv shows involving Catholicism, and I could continue to bring up my personal feelings towards these two projects, but it’s not necessary in understanding that there are two projects at hand that were created by two of cinema’s best (Scorsese and Sorrentino) and that have an element of disappointment staining them. I am curious to hear feedback from lifelong Athiests, currently active members of any religion, and fellow lapsed believers, because I think there is a community that can be formed when discussing the motives, origins, cinematic value, etc. within these two projects that do not have to solely reside in religion. I’m curious to also see the growing reception and reactions from Catholic organizations and the Vatican in reference to the upcoming season of The Young Pope, because I do believe there is an interesting relationship forming between the Vatican and pop culture (references, portrayals, commentary of the Church) due to the progressive Pope Francis.
Note: I will continue to watch The Young Pope and will return to these thoughts and report any changes in opinion.