In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests from Portugal travel to Japan to find their mentor, who is rumored to have apostatized.
“I do not believe that God has given us this trial to no purpose. I know that the day will come when we will clearly understand why this persecution with all its sufferings has been bestowed upon us- for everything that Our Lord does is for our good. And yet, even as I write these words I feel the oppressive weight in my heart of those last stammering words of Kichijiro in the morning of his departure: "Why has Deus Sama imposed this suffering on us?" and then the resentment in those eyes that he turned upon me. "Father,” he had said, "what evil have we done?”
The passage above comes from Shasaku Endo’s incredibly harrowing novel, Silence, which was, of course, the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s adaptation. The novel is a short read, but it’s one that’s stuck with me for the past year and a half. It’s grueling and heart wrenching. I know this is primarily a movie review site, but I find my love for books is just as deep, if not deeper, and I’d be remised if I couldn’t take this opportunity to recommend this book to you.
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”) and Garupe (Adam Driver, “Star Wars The Last Jedi”) are charged by their superior, Father Valignano (Ciaran Hinds, “The Woman in Black”), to go to Japan to locate their missing mentor, Ferreira (Liam Neeson, “Schindler’s List”), who is rumored to have apostatized. Once Rodrigues and Garupe arrive in Japan, they are forced to take drastic measures so they aren’t found out, as Christianity is a crime punishable by death. Working with the local Christians, the two priests try to locate Ferreira while still preaching the word of God, but it becomes more difficult when the Inquisitor begins to martyr any Christians he finds.
First and foremost, I want to say that this is one of the most faithful adaptions I’ve ever seen come to screen (though, surprisingly, the film ends with a little more hope). Scorsese recreates scenes perfectly, pulling in recurring images from the novel, whole lines of dialogue, but most importantly, the themes that permeate slowly, simmering through this boiling caldron of a film. This film is not fast paced; it builds slowly towards a depressing ending, much like the tide slowly coming in to drown the Christians tied to the crosses on the beach. The hope we find here is faint and far away, because the themes it deals with are some of the harder ones we as Christians have to deal with, particularly facing persecution while dealing with the distance of God.
The slow pacing of this movie works entirely to its advantage. This film is about persecution and captivity. The Christians in this story have a reason to be afraid, and a reason to fear real persecution, unlike the Christians in the “God’s Not Dead” series. (Another small spoiler will follow here) The deaths the Christians are subjected to are not easy to watch: they’re brutal and disturbing. Rodrigues is captured about halfway through the film, and during this time a man known as the Inquisitor forces him to watch as he shoves Christians in water to drown them, or ties them to crosses The Inquisitor tells Rodrigues that if he treads on an image of Jesus the Christian prisoners will be released, but Rodrigues cannot bring himself to betray his faith. There is little to no hope during these scenes; we watch in despair as more and more bodies pile up around Rodrigues, and he feels powerless to stop it. The way that these scenes are shot forces you to look deep inside yourself; how would you handle this situation? If you were placed in a cage while men, women and children were tortured around you, and you had the power to stop them by treading on an image of Jesus, how would you fair? This film is incredibly introspective; it’s an experience that isn’t easily forgotten.
But beyond the themes that this film touches on so poignantly, the craft with which this film was made is outstanding. This is a Scorsese film, and Scorsese is known for using religious iconography and symbolism in many of his films. Sure, he directed the very controversial “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), but he’s used images of Saints and Christ many times in his films: “The Departed”, “Goodfellas”, “Gangs of New York”… Scorsese is known for his grittier dramas, many of which I would never recommend to my parents or more conservative friends, but this is a film that I would say is required viewing for Christians. It’s a very important film to those who seek after God. As it is a Scorsese film, it’s almost implied that the craft with which this film was made is incredible. His cinematography, attention to detail, direction of actors- all of it- is on point.
This film received an Oscar nomination for Cinematography, and it’s easy to see why. Many of the scenes at the beginning of the film are wide and sweeping- we see beautiful open spaces that are brimming with color and life. After Rodrigues is captured, the shots become smaller and more confined. Many scenes are shot through prison bars, and other shots look down on Rodrigues, making him look smaller and less in control.
Liam Neeson gives one of his more withdrawn performances, which, honestly, is a breath of fresh air after seeing him in a slew of schlock action movies. Andrew Garfield gave an incredible performance here (Fun Fact: he and Emma Stone broke up because of this movie because it took too much of a toll on him). Garfield actually received a nomination in 2017 for the other movie he starred in: “Hacksaw Ridge” (2017). Though that film is also a pretty decent movie, I would argue his performance in this is better. Adam Driver is amazing in everything he’s in, and this is no different. Driver is an actor I’ve been following since HBO’s Girls, which I came to love for portraying millennials in a very honest light. Driver is going to be an actor to watch (if you haven’t seen “Paterson” yet, go out of your way to find that).
I have a hard time giving this movie a perfect score only because it’s not a film that I want to watch very often. I’ve watched it twice in the past year, but it will probably be another three-four years before I feel the urge to watch it again. This film is grueling and hard to watch, but purposefully so. I would argue that this is one of the most important Christian films ever made, but, sadly, the R rating will turn a lot of Christian viewers away. If you can get past the brutality of this movie, the rewards you will reap will be worth it. We, as Christians today, don't face the same persecution that these people did hundreds of years ago, but there are still moments of trial in each of our lives. All of us must wrestle with the distance of God, and why he allows certain things to happen in our own way. Know that God is still there, even if it sometimes seems like he's so far away. Have faith, brothers and sisters. I'd like to leave you with a quote from Dostoyevsky's The Idiot (he says things that I'd like to say, and far more eloquently).
"We degrade God too much, ascribing Him to our ideas in vexation at being able to understand Him. I repeat: it's hard to have an answer for what is not given to man to understand."
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