Silence

Directed by Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese as a passion project 25 years in the making, Silence is an often difficult to watch film that as the title suggests is full of silent moments reflecting the characters’ religious introspection and how God could exist in such a cruel world. Set in 17th century Japan when the country was closed to Westerners and Christians were violently oppressed, the film follows the Portuguese Jesuit priests Father Rodrigues, played by Andrew Garfield, and Father Garupe, played by Adam Driver. Both eagerly religious men are snuck into forbidden Japan on a mission to find the missing Father Ferreira, portrayed by Liam Neeson, who may have apostatized, or renounced Christianity. When the men first arrive in the Nagasaki region, they are greeted enthusiastically by downtrodden farmers who have had to hide their Catholic faith. The priests live out of sight during the day to avoid the draconian Japanese inquisitors but return to the villagers at night to give Mass, Communion, confession, and baptism, strictly forbidden rituals not given by clergy in several years. Through the eyes of Garfield’s and Driver’s characters, we witness the horrifying torture and gruesome killings of those suspected to be Christians by the Japanese authorities. For instance, men are tied to crucifixes on the shore where rising tides eventually drown them, and innocent bystanders are executed if one person does not apostatize. The major tactic used by the Japanese to discover who is a Christian is to force individuals to trample, or step, on a stone inscribed with the image of Jesus or other Christian iconography. Eventually, Father Rodrigues is detained by brutal Japanese officials who insist that he immediately apostatize while being told that Father Ferreira has renounced his faith and now lives as a Buddhist with a Japanese wife. Scorsese does a brilliant job of underscoring the priests and Japanese Christians torturously grappling with their inner personal faith as they suffer unimaginably simply for being Christians. Mirroring often tedious spiritual exploration that takes time and quiet reflection, the movie is almost three hours long with very little action and has extended stretches of no dialogue. Furthermore, the film heavily relies on nature for storytelling by filling the soundtrack with insect and other wild noises instead of a more conventional musical score. The sweepingly beautiful yet rough landscape of rural Japan is also perfectly captured by the powerfully nuanced cinematography. Overall, I found it to be a spiritually moving cinematic experience about what it means to follow a religion and how even the most dire circumstances can be overcome with deep personal convictions. Although it definitely is not for everyone or the faint of heart, the movie presents yet another terrific case why Martin Scorsese is one of the most talented filmmakers today.

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