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The City Journals

Dan's Review: "Silence" is a worthy examination of faith

Jan 13, 2017 11:56AM ● By Dan Metcalf

Andrew Garfield and Shin'ya Tsukamoto in Silence - © 2016 - Paramount

Silence (Paramount)

Rated R for some disturbing violent content.

Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Ciarán Hinds, Issey Ogata, Shinya Tsukamoto, Yoshi Oida, Yōsuke Kubozuka, Nana Komatsu, Ryo Kase, Béla Baptiste.

Written by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese, based on the novel by Shūsaku Endō.

Directed by Martin Scorsese.



Films about faith and religion are always troubling for me. On the one hand, it’s refreshing to know that there’s a market for movies about man’s relationship to God. On the other hand, there’s the irony that true faith cannot be achieved through tangible means, even the viewing of a film.  Movies, like other works of art are outward expressions of individual faith, but one cannot give his or her faith to another by sharing such expressions. In other words, faith cannot be proven, and is a deeply personal experience. Martin Scorsese has delved into religion-themed movies before, including the controversial Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun, based on the life of the Dalai Lama. His latest project is Silence, based on the historical novel by Shūsaku Endō, which was lightly based on real people and real events.

Andrew Garfield stars as Sebastião Rodrigues, a Portuguese Jesuit priest who was trained by Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), and actual priest who tried to convert Japan to Catholicism in the early 17th Century. When Rodrigues and his fellow Jesuit Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) are summoned to meet with Father Alessandro Valignano (Ciarán Hinds), they learn that Ferreira has disappeared, and even worse, may have apostatized from the faith. Rodrigues and Garupe travel to Japan and meet several converts who worship in secret, since the governor/inquisitor Masashige (Issey Ogata) has outlawed the religion, and will torture or execute those who practice it. The two priests continue to administer to the hidden flock, but Rodrigues is eventually captured and brought before the inquisitor, who demands that he disavow the faith or many of his followers will be tortured and executed. Garupe meets a similar fate. Rodrigues struggles with his own faith, as God remains silent to his prayers. During his ordeal, Rodrigues is haunted by a convert named Kichijiro (Yōsuke Kubozuka), who betrays him and begs forgiveness several times. Rodrigues eventually meets with Ferreira and is compelled to make a very hard decision to save more Japanese Christians from certain death.

Silence is yet another masterful work from Martin Scorsese, with beautiful cinematography and excellent performances, especially from Driver, Neeson, Masahige and Tadanobu Asano, who plays an interpreter. Many of the scenes and images are reminiscent of classic Japanese cinema, a craft that Scorsese loves and obviously tried to emulate. 

The greatest aspect of the film is its underlying message about the personal nature of one’s faith, and the tendency to hold onto one’s inner beliefs, even in the face of death. Central to this message is Christ himself, whose selfless sacrifice is well-noted throughout the Christian world. If Christians truly believe that a man could suffer to save them, the element of personal sacrifice for one’s beliefs is an interesting topic.

Silence is very dark, and at times very disturbing, set in a brutal era. It’s also very long (2 hours, 41 minutes), but you may not notice as you wonder how the story will end for Rodrigues and the church. With the violence and brutality, it’s certainly not a religious experience by any stretch. I wouldn’t consider Silence as a film about religion, but one about faith, which is always worth looking into, no matter what your beliefs.