Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Jay Cocks & Martin Scorsese; based on Silence by Shūsaku Endō
Cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto
Producer: Barbara De Fina, Randall Emmett, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Gaston Pavlovich, Martin Scorsese, Irwin Winkler
by Jon Cvack
There seemed to be two camps for this film - those that thought it was a masterpiece, and those who found it far too long and far too boring. I’m somewhere in the middle, feeling that it was about an hour too long (if being generous), while containing an incredible last hour that made the grueling pace all worth it. Learning about the twenty year mission to get this film made, I understood the delay, as contrary to The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), which examined Jesus’ struggle with his own faith, this movie was relatively small in scale, serving as a highly contained, if not drawn out story.
It focuses on two Jesuit priests - Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) - as they head off to Hirado Island, Nagasaki in order to find their mentor Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who went missing after Japanese samurais tortured and killed his fellow missionaries who refused to apostatize. They’re led by alcoholic Kichijiro (Yōsuke Kubozuka) who renounced his Christian faith in order to save himself. Arriving at Hirado, they’re welcomed by the community, where they issue penitence and prayer for the members.
Eventually, the Samurai come to town, and so we witness the people forced to renounce their Christian beliefs under threat of torture, or even death.
One trio of men is hung up on a cross in the ocean, in which the high tide slowly drowns them to death, while Garupe and Rodrigues hide in the woods, watching in terror. Eventually they separate, with Rodrigues getting caught by the inquisitors, who later force him to watch Garupe as he attempts to save those who refused to convert; wrapped up in a straw mat, hands tied, and tossed over a ship. Garupe tries to save him and drowns.
Thus after ninety minutes we finally get to the meat of the story, as Rodriguez is held up in prison and forced to witness the horrific consequences greeting his many acolytes that refuse to apostatize - including beheadings and some horrendous torture device where they hang the individual upside down, making a deep incision behind the ear so that the blood can leak from their head, prolonging a horrible death. Regardless of what the inquisitors do, Rodrigues refuses to give in to their demands.
Eventually, and in the film’s greatest scene, we meet Ferreira, who we learn that, after all Garuse and Rodrigues had sacrificed, has abandoned his religion, converting to Buddhism and refocusing his life on a pursuit of science. He now has a wife and a child. The woman is a widow of her Christian husband who was executed. Garfield puts on one of his finest scenes, as Rodriguez struggles to grasp the reality of what he’s hearing. We watch as he reflects on all he had seen, and what happened to Garuse, wondering if it was all for nothing.
By this point I had lost track of time, not knowing if there was another forty five minutes left, or it was was reaching the end. Ferreira demands Garuse step on a plate of Jesus and renounce his beliefs, or face the excruciating torture others experienced.
I’m sure I’m speaking for many - Christians, specifically - in that most people would just put their foot on the Jesus Plate. If Jesus is an all-loving being, then he will understand that you stepped on it out of fear, and not at all as an indication of apostasy. And yet so many of these individuals refuse. It’s a noble gesture, but - speaking for most atheists and agnostics - it’s also a silly one. To face execution in one of the most brutal ways imaginable, or living your Christian life in private is just no question to me. I can’t fathom it.
This film’s World Premiere was at the Vatican, screening for over 400 Jesuits. I went to a Jesuit college, and while I’m not particularly religious, I retain an interest in the history and tradition. From a non-religious perspective, it’s a fascinating culture. To have that amount of faith in something, where you’re willing to sacrifice even yourself for the belief, is something I’m, at times, envious of. To be able to finding meaning in God rather than creativity or knowledge is something I imagine does fill many voids and provides purpose in the darkest of times.
While it might be offensive to even make the following comparison, I think this story is for anyone who’s passionate about a cause, whether for their own ambition, a value, belief, passion, or faith. How far are you willing to go and are you willing to let it kill you? In the case of Rodriguez, and what I liked about the ending, is he gave in and renounced his faith. Some might say Jesus spoke to him, but it could just as easily be said that it was Rodriguez speaking to himself, expressing the need to stop.
Coincidentally, just as I was taking a quick break to look at Reddit there was a meme of The Rock, saying, “We all must suffer two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” Now before you roll your eyes at the shallow platitude, I’d ask you to consider how this is in any way inapplicable to Rodriquez. He either has to deal with the pain of watching people die because he failed to make this choice, possibly even die himself, or renounce his beliefs and give into the pain of regret in abandoning his faith.
It leaves me wondering if he found absolution, whether he turned back to God personally, or his wife simply placed the crucifix back into his hand due. I'm a bit surprised that it was screened at the Vatican, as for as much as it’s a celebration of faith, it’s also a tragic turn of one man reaching the limits of his own, refusing to die like Jesus did. I’m then left wondering why so little time was spent on the years of his life after apostatizing, when so much could have been trimmed from the front to open room for this section and explore how his life had changed.
BELOW: An absolutely brutal scene and, next to the ear bleeding, what I'll remember most
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