By Linc Leifeste | January 6, 2017
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese(screenplay), Shûsaku Endô (based on the novel by)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Ciarán Hinds, Issei Ogata, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Yoshi Oida, Yôsuke Kubozuka
Martin Scorses’s latest film, Silence, is based on Shûsaku Endô’s 1966 novel of the same name. Set mostly in 17th-century Japan at a time when priests were attempting to proselytize the Catholic faith, the film’s focus is on two Portuguese Jesuit priests, Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver). These two priests travel to Japan at a fragile time in the Church’s existence in that country, as priests and their native converts are being rounded up and forced to renounce their faith on pain of death as a result of the government seeing the Church as a threat to native Japanese culture. The Church is leaning towards sending no more priests to Japan but Rodrigues and Garrpe, who refuse to believe the rumor that their revered mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), has himself renounced his faith and taken up a Japanese lifestyle, convince their leadership that they should go and find out his fate.
Snuck into the country, the two priests are soon separated and find themselves ministering to an eager flock of believers, but at such peril that they must practice their faith in hiding. As a result, finding information on Father Ferreira proves challenging. The film captures a moment in time where faith, culture and government violently clash and as a result, the faith of Father Rodrigues is tested up to the point of breaking.
Without a doubt, Silence is one of Scorsese’s least commercial films while also being a hugely grand epic. It is simultaneously huge and intensely personal. One can’t help but this film is as much Scorsese’s own struggling with his Catholic faith as it is the story of these two priests in Japan. While it is clear as the film unfolds that he reveres these heroes of the Catholic faith, it’s also clear that his faith is much more complex and spiritual than that of many conservative American evangelical Christians. Much like his earlier Last Temptation, this is a film that is both a moving and thoughtful revery on the deep, abiding truths of the Christian faith as well as a punch to the nose of those whose faith is black and white and easily defined.
There are many reasons that this film will be tough viewing for many. Its clear reverence for these Catholic priests and their teachings, and those teachings being carried into other cultures, will be enough to turn off some viewers. The film’s slow, meditative pace will be too much for some to sit through. And the repeated brutal torture scenes will be more than some will choose to bear. But for those who invest the time and effort in closely examining Silence, the rewards are rich, as Scorsese lovingly and passionately brings a light to bear on the struggles, passion, love and doubt inherent in the story of these priests struggling to choose between their faith and their very survival.