On paper, “Silence” had all the makings of a success. A Martin Scorsese-helmed adaptation of well-regarded, Shusaku Endo-penned literary masterwork starring Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson is prestige candy, and expectations were only bolstered as the long gestating film’s myth spread. Scorsese had wanted to make the film for 25 years, ever since reading the book during the religious fallout from his legendarily controversial “Last Temptation of Christ.” He’d recruited Endo’s own translator Van C. Gessel to serve as a consultant on the project.
And when the movie finally opened to limited release in December, it received rave reviews. But the bank doesn’t accept a certified fresh rating, and “Silence” is a flop. Its limited release was expanded to just under 750 theaters over the MLK weekend, during which it brought it a ghastly $2.3 million. That’s pennies next to its $50 million price tag, and one of the biggest bombs of Scorsese’s career.
None of this is terribly interesting outside the purview of cinephiles and film execs, but it’s noteworthiness right now stems from the unique moment in which America finds itself. Following last month’s Golden Globe kerfuffle in which Meryl Streep gave a lengthy, scathing indictment of President-elect Donald Trump, she was roundly criticized from all corners of conservatism for being indicative of “the reason Trump won.”
There are more theories as to why Trump won than there were Republican primary challengers, but the anti-Streep theory picked up some real steam. The line of thinking goes that Hollywood’s elitist left-wing bubble had grown so insular that it spurred a red-state backlash in the form of Trump votes.
Regardless of how much stock you put in that theory, it’s true that conservatives have often felt as if their ideas were at odds with Hollywood. There is some truth to this, owing to a long, ugly history that dates back to the 1950s. The early years of Hollywood found a good deal of cooperation between conservative Christians and Hollywood film execs. Christians enjoyed seeing Bible stories like Moses and King David brought to the big screen, and studios liked that they sold well. This partnership was short-lived, however, as the infamous conservative-driven witch hunt for communists set Hollywood on the defensive against conservatism. Those wounds never healed, and Hollywood’s influence has grown as religion’s has waned, usurping the role of cultural gatekeeper.
All of this has led to last month’s dust-up between one of Hollywood’s most untouchable stars and those who felt demeaned by her language. “I guess the notion of giving a new president a chance, whether you voted for him or not, is hopelessly quaint,” tut-tutted Fox News analyst Howard Kurtz. Republican firebrand Tomi Lahren figured that these “Hollywood elites wouldn’t know average, everyday, hard-working Americans if we bit them in the ass.” Conservative commentator Meghan McCain was most direct: “This Meryl Streep speech is why Trump won.”
According to commentators like these, it’s long past time for Hollywood to crack the gates open for some more conservative themes to cut through its films. There’s an audience there, they argue, not unreasonably. Why not make movies for them?
It’s a fair question, and worth answering with another: Why isn’t anyone watching “Silence”?
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SOURCE: The Washington Post
Follow Tyler Huckabee on Twitter @tylerhuckabee.