What Silence Has To Say

Photo taken from Official Trailer

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Written By Caleb Young, Australia

If you’re into movies that encourage, inspire, or even provoke, Silence may be the answer—if you hang in there and wait for the best parts to emerge.

Silence, a movie that Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese had reportedly worked on for over two decades, revolves around two Jesuit priests who were smuggled into 17th-century Japan just when it started its isolationist foreign policy. The priests, Father Rodrigues, played by Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), and Father Garupe, played by Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), were subjected to physical, emotional, and psychological torture alongside the “Kakure Kirishitans” (the underground Japanese Christians) over their faith—in scenes that take up much of the film’s 161 minutes.

The drawn-out, slow-paced narrative can be a turn-off for some, and was likely one of the reasons why the film did poorly at the box office. However, I would contend that the film is far from a bad one.

Garfield does a fantastic job expressing the emotional distress that Rodrigues goes through when the foundation of everything he believes in seems to slowly crumble. The character of Kichijiro (played by Yōsuke Kubozuka) is wonderfully written and complex. Kichijiro can be described as a strange blend between Judas and Peter who constantly challenges Rodrigues’ concepts of grace and forgiveness in the face of betrayal. The film has a lot of depth and is not afraid to ask tough questions that promise to keep viewers thinking (as it did to me).

As a Christian, I found myself pondering many of the theological questions that arose from the film. And I believe that is a good thing. Although I won’t attempt to answer many of these questions, several aspects of the movie encouraged me in my understanding of my own faith and belief.


Putting a Mentor on a Pedestal

We have a very human tendency to place a person on a pedestal. This seems especially true when it comes to spiritual mentors such as a pastor or church leader. The danger comes when we unwittingly equate this person with God; when that person fails—as humans tend to do—their actions can cause a crisis of faith.

This is exactly what happens to Rodrigues when he hears stories that his spiritual mentor, played by Liam Neeson, has publically rejected God in Japan and is working with the Japanese inquisitors to root out Christians. As a result, the Jesuit priest is left struggling with his faith in God.

Although it is a good thing to respect our leaders, we must be careful not to place them on par with, or even above God. We must make Him and His Word—and not the teachings or character of a fallible human being—the foundation of our faith.


The Struggles of Persecuted Christians

The film contains several horrific, heartbreaking scenes of martyrdom—along with inspiring scenes of believers showing steadfast faith even in their final moments, which moved me to tears. I was also struck by the complex, difficult decisions the Japanese Christians had to make under severe persecution.

A common tactic used by the inquisitors during those times was forcing Christians to step on a picture of Jesus. If they refused, the people in their village would be persecuted. Some decided to comply, but most stopped short when they were ordered to spit on the image.

As the leader of the persecuted Christians, Rodrigues’ dilemma was even more complex. Though he was prepared to die for his faith, the Japanese inquisitors threatened to kill members of his congregation if he refused to denounce his faith.

Those scenes were a stark reminder to me that even today, many of God’s followers continue to be forced to make such difficult decisions. Silence challenged me to pray more for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, and to pray for strength, faith, and wisdom when faced with such adversity.


When God is Silent

The struggle that Rodrigues ultimately faced was the distance he felt from God in the midst of his terrible situation. He pleaded with God for guidance but was mostly met with silence. At the height of his psychological torture, Rodrigues cried out, “Christ is here. I just can’t hear him.”

Although we may not necessarily have to face the difficult circumstances portrayed in the movie, it is likely that many of us will go through a season of feeling distant from God. How we react to those challenges can have a strong impact on the rest of our lives. Will we lose heart thinking that God does not care for us in our plight? Will we be led astray by false teaching? Or will we, with God’s help, go through the trial and allow Him to mold us into the person He wants us to be?

I’m not saying this is easy to do, and the film shows how difficult those trials can be. But James 1:12 encourages us, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

The film’s unexpected, open ending left me with more questions than answers. And yet, Silence served to strengthen my theology and beliefs, as well as give me insight into the struggles faced by persecuted Christians.


Career Advice from Hidden Figures

Photo taken from Official Trailer

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars


Written By Chia Poh Fang, Singapore

Have you ever felt angry for your lack of opportunities? Perhaps, due to the color of your skin, your looks, your gender, or your not so well-connected family background.

We’d all like to believe that career success is strictly a result of talent, drive, and skill set, but experience may tell us otherwise. In reality, it seems as though hiring managers favor those who are better looking. And we know all too well that prejudice against a certain skin color and gender is still prevalent in this day and age. In environments where supply exceeds demand, we may even need people in high places to help us land any job—not just our dream job. I’ve heard that in China, many university undergraduates are fretting about their job prospects because of a lack of connections.

That’s probably why Hidden Figures’ message is especially poignant and relevant for us today. Based on the true life stories of three African-American female mathematicians, the inspirational movie portrays how these three women crossed gender, racial, and societal barriers, to help America chart a new frontier—send an astronaut into outer space and return safely.

In one of the noteworthy scenes in the movie, one of the key characters, Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monáe), was challenged by a fellow colleague, Karl Zielinski (played by Olek Krupa) to dream big and not allow societal prejudice against females and colored people to hinder or deter her from achieving the “impossible”, i.e. becoming an engineer.

Karl: Mary, a person with an engineer’s mind should be an engineer. You can’t be a computer the rest of your life.

Mary: Mr. Zielinski, I’m a negro woman. I’m not gonna entertain the impossible.

Karl: And I’m a Polish Jew whose parents died in a Nazi prison camp. Now I’m standing beneath a spaceship that’s going to carry an astronaut to the stars. I think we can say we are living the impossible. Let me ask you, if you were a white male, would you wish to be an engineer?

Mary: I wouldn’t have to. I’d already be one.

That conversation awakened Jackson to realize one thing: she didn’t have to be a victim of low expectations. She later went on to win a court appeal to study in an all-white high school and became NASA’s first black female engineer.

That’s inspiring, you may say, but that’s not me. I’m no trailblazer. I’d rather take the path of least resistance and be resigned to my fate, than go against the grain. You’re probably not alone in that thinking.

However, let’s consider this possibility: we may never reach our God-given potential if we don’t try and give our very best. One author puts it this way: “If we never attempt things that would stretch, grow, and strengthen us, we may end up weak and unprepared for the amazing future that could have been.”

It’s the same message the Apostle James wrote in his letter to encourage the believers who were undergoing immense persecution: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:2-4, NLT, emphasis mine).

If not for anything, this should encourage us that difficulties and hardships can be for our good if we respond rightly. On top of that, we as believers have good reason to not let society define us. In the words of missionary William Carrey, we can “expect great things, attempt great things” for we serve a great God, who not only holds the universe in His hands, but also holds us close to His heart!

So what does it mean for those of us in a seemingly unending job search or for those of us stuck in a rut in our current job? Consider how God has made you. Use whatever He has bestowed on you—skills, intellect or disposition—to overcome all obstacles, by His strength, to reach your fullest potential! You are God’s wonderful and unique creation (Psalm 139:14), and He has prepared a good work for you to do (Ephesians 2:10).


Finding Dory: A Fishy Tale of Getting Lost and Found

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


We’ve not forgotten the endearing regal blue tang, Dory, it seems. Though 13 years have passed since the tad-forgetful and oft-apologetic blue fish first made a splash in Pixar’s animated sea, many still flocked to the theaters for Finding Dory—the sequel to the 2003 Academy Award-winning Disney-Pixar movie Finding Nemo. The result? A whale-sized $136.2 million-opening weekend. This was a new record for the opening of any animated movie in the US; it had previously belonged to Shrek the Third, which grossed $121.6 million in 2007.

That’s a huge catch, considering that there’s nothing fresh about this nautical adventure.  After all, we’ve already plumbed the ocean depths in Finding Nemo, laughed and cried with the unlikely trio (that’s Marlin, Nemo and Dory), and learned the importance of family and friendship along the way. So why would a sequel that repeats all the same themes blow the animation record out of the water?

That’s probably because we’re hooked on the amnesiac Dory, one of the greatest Pixar supporting characters of all time. In this adventure—which takes place a year after Nemo is found—the lovable and excitable blue fish is the titular character. After she gets swept up in a massive stingray migration that triggers her memories, she sets off on a quest to find her parents. The trouble is, she can’t quite seem to remember anything about them, save for the fact that they live at “the Jewel of Morro Bay, California”. This sets the backdrop for another heartwarming oceanic adventure with her good pals, Marlin and Nemo.

Along the way, we fall in love with the baby Dory with huge eyes (whom we see during Dory’s intermittent flashbacks) and get acquainted with new characters like Hank, a cranky dexterous “septopus” (since he only has seven tentacles), a kind-hearted myopic whale shark named Destiny, and an insecure Beluga whale named Bailey. These three go to extreme lengths to help the memory-challenged tang find her parents, leaving us in stitches when their efforts lead to a fine kettle of fish.

But like all good Pixar films, Finding Dory is not just about humor and witty dialogue—it’s also about heart. The themes of unconditional love, friendship, and acceptance of disabilities (most notably, Dory’s short-term memory loss) run through the entire 1 hour and 45 minutes, and invariably leave us with warm, fuzzy feelings.

What will probably also strike a chord with Christians is Finding Dory’s simple but important message of finding our way home. As believers, we know full well the pain of separation and sense of helplessness that comes from being lost—as well as the immense joy of being found and reconciled with God. So we can’t help but root for Dory as she embarks on the journey to reunite with her loved ones and celebrate with her when she’s eventually reconciled with her parents. It’s a beautiful depiction of unconditional love—in the ocean and beyond.


5 Reasons to Watch “Risen”

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


I am not a fan of biblically inspired movies. Here’s why: More often than not, the plotlines deviate substantially from Bible narratives, all in the name of “creative liberty”. Take, for instance, 2014’s Exodus: Gods and Kings and Noah, which both took a skeptical view on faith and minimized God’s role in the stories. Naturally, then, I was wary of Risen, the latest faith story that is being positioned as a sequel to Mel Gibson’s critically acclaimed film in 2004, The Passion Of The Christ.

Helmed by American director Kevin Reynolds, Risen tells the story of Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a powerful Roman tribune who is ordered by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) to investigate the mystery of the missing body of Yeshua (Cliff Curtis)—as Jesus is referred to in the movie—and to locate it quickly to prevent an imminent uprising of the Jews. In doing so, it takes on Christianity’s greatest claim, that is, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, in a most controversial way—through the eyes of a non-believer.

And it works remarkably well. The idea of inviting people to view the death and resurrection of Jesus from the perspective of an outsider—one who has every reason to be skeptical about Jesus’ claims—is pure genius and highly compelling, both for the believer and non-believer alike.

On top of its well-crafted script that largely follows the biblical account, here are five reasons why I strongly recommend this show.

1. Although you don’t see much of him, the movie is all about Jesus.

From the start to the end, Yeshua appears on screen for less than one-fifth of the time and speaks less than 20 lines in total. Yet, there is not one moment in the story that deviates from him. When Pilate, Caiaphas, Clavius and his men aren’t talking about him, they’re busy looking for him.

This oblique approach is a refreshing take on this genre, usually criticized for simplistic storytelling and in-your-face presentations of the Messiah and his disciples. And because everyone seems to have seen or heard him but nobody knows for sure where he is, you almost feel like cheering when he finally makes his appearance onscreen.

2. You can identify with Clavius.

Unlike the peevish Pontius Pilate and manipulative Caiaphas who are hell-bent on ensuring that Yeshua didn’t rise from the dead (instead of finding out if he actually did), Clavius is presented as a highly capable and rational soldier who is more concerned about finding out the truth than pandering to politics. It’s hard not to like him, even though he starts out as a hard-hearted unbeliever.

In his quest to find out if Yeshua really rose from the dead, he tracks down numerous witnesses, including Mary Magdalene, who gives him cryptic answers like “open your heart”, and a blind woman who insists she’s heard Yeshua on the streets. Naturally, Clavius is skeptical. Who wouldn’t when all you have are hearsay and vague answers? But Clavius persists and continues in his dogged search for the truth, even when Pilate tells him to stop.

And you can’t help but root for him, because it’s exactly what you want. In some sense, most of us have a little of Clavius in us: we too want to find out if the Messiah has risen. Believer or non-believer, every one of us must have, at some point, wondered about the greatest story of all time. All unbelievers are Claviuses and most, if not all, believers would have started out as Claviuses. Like him, we are rational and reasonable beings who want solid evidence before we believe in Christ. But how will we respond when what we see goes against everything we used to believe?

3. You want to be a part of Jesus’ inner circle.

When the disciples finally make their grand appearance, you’ll be drawn to how tight-knit and different they are from the rest, and how they feel about their lives. There’s a sense of contentment and joy in simply being with Jesus even though it means constant opposition and uncertainty. There’s a sense of camaraderie and love for the downtrodden. And there’s a sense of belonging even though they don’t seem to have a home.

It’s a beautiful picture of what community is, and it makes you want to be a part of it.

4. You want to read your Bible again.

Normally, we tend to gloss over details of characters like Pilate, Caiaphas, Joseph of Arimathea, Simon Peter, and Mary Magdalene. But the movie’s unique perspective forces you to slow down and question every character and detail again. “Hang on, was that part in the Bible?” “What’s Caiaphas’ role again?” “Were there angels in the biblical account?”

After watching the show, there were so many questions I had about the people, the stakes involved, and the politics surrounding the crucifixion, that I automatically went back to the Bible (Matthew 28:11-15). After reading all four gospel accounts—again—I was brought to a deeper appreciation of what Jesus did.

5. You’re reminded why the resurrection is such a big deal.

One of the biggest things that struck me while watching this movie was how common crucifixions were in the time of Christ. Though it was horrific and entirely undeserved, there was in fact nothing unique about the way Jesus died. Under Roman rule, many suffered the same punishment, including the two thieves that hung at his side.

So to see a man who had been certified dead, buried, and locked away in a tomb, showing up again on the third day with marks in his hands and side, must have been amazing—or even terrifying. Risen brought these sentiments out perfectly, showing the chaos and fear his appearance must have caused among non-believers, and the joy and amazement among his believers.

The movie makes a big deal about Jesus’ resurrection—and rightly so. Indeed, all of Christianity hangs on the truth of it (1 Corinthians 15:14). And, like how the truth challenges Clavius in Risen, Christ’s resurrection demands a response—there is no way a person who has seen Jesus come back to life can ever be the same again. Like the movie, it sounds a call to the viewer: there is no way you can remain nonchalant about your faith after seeing the truth.

And it’s precisely because of this very last reason, that I urge you to watch this show. This Good Friday, let’s shake off our lethargy and be amazed by the greatest story ever told—again. May it invigorate us and inspire us to fall in love with Jesus all over again, and to share Him with others.