Rating: 4 / 5
Silence is a work of love and fervent devotion for master filmmaker Martin Scorsese. He spent more than 25 years developing the film from the book by Japanese author Shusaku Endo, considered in literary circles as one of the great novels of the 20th century.
The film is a brutal portrayal of what faith can cost when it is repressed by the government and there will be many who may find its Christian martyrdom too confronting on the big screen, but I believe they would miss an opportunity to consider some of life’s big questions.
The story spoke to Scorsese in a unique manner. ‘I continually think about, wonder about faith and doubt and weakness and the human condition, and these are the very themes that Endo’s book touches upon in such a direct way.’
Set in the 17th century, two enthusiastic young Jesuit priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), set off from their native Portugal to Japan to investigate the disappearance of their former mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Ferreira was a fervent evangelistic missionary whose contact suddenly stopped and he is assumed dead or in peril.
It’s an extremely challenging time for Christianity in Japan, with feudal lords and powerful and often ruthless samurai determined to completely eradicate Christianity from their nation. As is often the case, though, hardcore underground groups (the kakure kirishitan or ‘hidden Christians’) gather in secret, longing desperately for teaching and the guidance and communion of a priest or pastor.
If caught they are persecuted, tortured and forced to renounce their faith in increasingly perverse cicumstances, or to die in slow agony.
The young priests constantly find themselves in imminent danger as they follow a trail of the increasingly mysterious Ferreira, blessing many of the secret faithful along the way. Alas, it’s obvious from the outset that they are both going to have to face the torturers at some point.
The haunting beauty of the film comes from its setting (although set in Japan it was shot in Taiwan) and the superb cinematography and design. There are also subtle touches that Scor-sese has added for Christian viewers, such as the distant crowing of a rooster when one of the priests is betrayed.
It was inspiring to witness the unshakeable faith of many of the Japan-ese Christians and their bravery when their beliefs are put to the test. The question that Endo poses through Father Rodrigues is why God does not intervene when the faithful are persecuted. It is reminiscent of Christ’s plea from the cross when he cried out, ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me?’, but Scorsese explains. ‘Silence is the story of a man who learns, so painfully, that God’s love is more mysterious than he knows…and that he is always present … even in his silence.’
Highlight: Andrew Garfield, the story and the setting
Red flags: violence and torture