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Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Your assessment of this daunting 161-minute movie about Christian imperialism in feudal Japan rather depends on your religious affiliation. (Review by Patrick Compton - 7/10)

Your assessment of this daunting 161-minute movie about Christian imperialism in feudal Japan rather depends on your religious affiliation.

As a secularist, I was inclined to feel that the two Portuguese Jesuit priests attempting to spread the gospel in the land of the rising sun would have done better to have stayed at home. Practising Christians might disagree although the film’s scriptwriter and director, Martin Scorsese (assisted by Jay Cocks), still offers little for Christian comfort.

The story, adapted from the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo, features a couple of Jesuits, Fathers Rodrigues and Garupe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who travel to Japan from their home country of Portugal in order to find their former mentor, Father Ferreira, who is rumoured to have renounced his faith after being tortured by the Japanese authorities. The two young men refuse to believe that he “apostatized” (a word that is frequently used in the movie) and travel in the hope that they can find him as well as spread the faith.

Their experience of Japan in 1640 is sobering, to put it mildly. The Japanese “shogunate” is putting Christian priests to death and executing Japanese peasants who show signs of being converted. The two priests are forced to hide and rely on the protection of the peasants to whom they secretly minister.

The trials of the priests – who are later arrested – are as nothing to the tribulations of the peasants who are dispatched in various gruesome ways for abandoning their faith in Buddhism. Rodrigues, in particular, finds no guidance from on high to ameliorate his spiritual torments. God is silent on this and many other matters. In this respect, the film is well named.

Personally, I found the movie a slog. It is often slow moving to the point of boredom and Scorsese takes way too long to come to his point, which is that Catholicism was unable to take root in the spiritually incompatible Japanese soil. If Christianity had been less evangelical ... but then, of course, it would not have been Christianity. The fact is that millions of lives have been needlessly lost throughout the dark tunnel of human history because of this.

Scorsese, to be fair, doesn’t try to impose his will on the viewer. In this respect he “tells it like it is”. The Japanese are shown to be responding in a typically medieval way to a perceived threat to their culture (which of course Christianity was), while Rodrigues is seen as an arrogant man, blind to the cultural and spiritual differences around him, believing as he does in the one, unquestionable truth that we all owe obeisance to the one Christian God.

The film’s ending, which I shall not reveal, is certainly a chilling one for Christians, although a certain ambiguity remains.

As a movie, the film is superbly directed and exquisitely photographed by Rodrigo Prieto (the film was shot in Taiwan), while the performances are all perfectly adequate.

Silence reputedly took Scorsese 25 years of development hell to finally get made, and it is the third of his religious films after The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Kundun (1997). I wish I could feel that it has been worth his while. The conviction persists that many of his fans will believe that he should stick to Italian America and the Mafia: soil that has proved much more fertile for his cinematic vision. I will certainly be first in the queue to see his next movie about the life of Frank Sinatra.

Silence is currently showing at Gateway – Patrick Compton