I share the same faith and some of the same ethnic background as Martin Scorcese, and with more than twenty-four hours of theology earned, I wonder and often check to see if I ever think I am more profound than I am. Scorcese’ s meeting with a group of Jesuits before the first screening of “Silence” hints at the same self-checking.
I have not read the 1966 Shasaku Endo novel on which the movie “Silence” is based, but I am curious now to do so. Historical fiction about spirituality and world views always brings up more questions than answers. I like the idea that Jesus walks with us in our suffering rather than the proverbial question: Why does God let bad things happen ?
Scorcese’ s “Silence” could have done more in comparing Buddhism to Christianity. Human nature gets in the way, and it is even slower to change than religious tenets. The film hints at secular humanism that could mesh the beliefs of both, but for now we are in 1637, and two Portuguese Jesuits have convinced their superior that they must travel to Japan to rescue their former mentor’s soul. There are rumors that Father Ferreira ( Liam Neeson) has apostatized, left the fold. Grey boulders that will not be moved and waves that pound contribute beautiful screen metaphors.
Stories of faith, suffering, and martyrdom may not draw huge cinematic crowds, but the visual beauty of this film should. Top notch cinematography draws out this story. Island haze and mist mirror the spiritual fog. The rocking tempo, the surge of waves, and the beautiful dive scene to shore is breathtaking.
Andrew Garfield of “Hacksaw Ridge” fame stars in the role of Father Sebastian Rodriques. The Dutch are the only ones allowed to trade with the Japanese, and they bring rumors of Padre Ferreira’s defection. Saving his soul is the young priest’s mission. His colleague, Father Francisco Garrupe ( Adam Driver) joins him in his army of two.
The thorn encircled forehead of our savior is shown again and again in Fr. Sebastian’s trials. Procession upon procession are viewed, many in the torched mists of darkness. Persecutions, inquisitions, secrecy, and tortures galore make for somber fare. Kichijiro, their guide, brings the only humor to this film. He weakly sins over and over again, and repeatedly begs to be forgiven. His moaning confession and the revealed nightmares of his family being burned alive is ,also, one of the most moving examples of hope: ” I dreamt that God might take me back because the fire was no longer so bright.”
The priests’ awe at the passion of the devoted and the frustration of not being able to help enough is repeated over and over again. Helplessness and fear take their toll. The Host raised in light renews fresh hope. The faithful are desperate for small, physical tokens of faith. One of my favorite scenes has the apostate Ferreira and Rodriques sorting through objects scored with Christian symbols.
I hope that audiences come out of theatres talking about more than how the Japanese really know how to torture. Outlawed faith, practical ideas for easy security, silver for snitches, and when one can trample the venerated in veneration of life, come to mind.
Issei Ogatu plays a great inquisitor. He is anything but one-dimensional. His understanding of man’s nature means that the padre gets three meals a day and travels for sea air. He argues that the priest is trying to justify his own weakness, and that he is showing him the path of mercy. “Renounce your faith, and your peasants live.” He parades Fr. Sebastian through the streets and quietly remarks: ” You came for them, and they hate you.” Sebastian’s thirst also parallels the last hours of Jesus.
Doubts, temptations to despair, and the idea that foreigners bring disaster are here. Balanced with the Japanese rationality that Christian illusions offer only a prize for suffering, whereas Buddha overcomes our illusions, gives us lots to chew. Wise sayings like ” he is an arrogant man: this means he will fail.” mesh with prayers like “martyrdom is my salvation: don’t let it be my shame” . Not all will be charmed by this dialectic. I wished for longer teas and more in-depth theological face-offs.
Neeson’s maturity and presence give his lines heft, where the younger actors show only fear, devotion, suffering and crazed doubt. Neeson warily makes eye contact. His is a great performance. My favorite Neeson line is, “What can I say to you on such an occasion? I am much the same”. As he writes his tome on the errors of Christianity, and we hear that to help others is the way of Buddha, some souls may be twisted, but I could feel that tiny icon in his dead palm. For those who vote, I say “God has chosen to be silent, but joins in the suffering of man.”