Martin Scorsese’s Silence is beautiful to behold yet difficult to digest. Rather than look for meaning in the assurances of faith, Silence examines the absurdity and failure of priests to bring Catholicism to shogun-era Japan. At times the film is difficult to watch but it is undeniably a masterpiece from one of the most talented filmmakers of our time.
The plot centers on two Jesuit priest who journey from Portugal to Japan in the 17th century to locate another priest and spread Christianity. The priests travel to several small villages to facilitate the conversion of the locals to Christianity. Their task is complicated by government soldiers who terrorize the village and its residents for practicing Christianity yet the priests never back down from their mission because they truly believe that converting the inhabitants of rural Japanese fishing villages to Christianity is a worthy endeavor. The priest named Rodrigues (played by Andrew Garfield) is captured when a fisherman named Kichijiro betrays him by luring him into the hands of the soldiers. Rodrigues is then brought to Nagasaki where he “the Inquisitor” explains to him why Catholicism does not have a place in Japan. Rodrigues also meets with his old mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who encourages Rodrigues to give up his mission because he believes that it is a lost cause. Ferreira has assimilated into Japanes culture since he believes that continuing to convert the Japanese people to Catholicism will only result in more suffering for the Japanese and the Catholic priests. Eventually Rodriuges gives in to Ferreira’s request and commits apostasy by stepping on an image of Jesus.
In Silence nothing is automatically right or wrong. There are many characters with ideas of what is right and what is wrong, but the film itself never seems to formally recognize any ideas as being better than others. The only true thing about this film is that the world is complex and often there are no easy answers to questions about humanity. People believe that everyone should be Catholic but actually trying to convert people in a foreign culture to Catholicism when another religion already exists is a task fraught with difficulty. The priests in Silence are flawed by their belief that Christianity should exist in every part of the world.
In addition to its intellectual strength, Silence is also breathtaking at times and features fantastic cinematography. Its great that Scorsese’s latest films are so long yet entertaining. It’s as if Scorsese was so used to making films the old way that making films nowadays is like going from safety scissors to actual scissors. Scorsese continues to hit home runs every time he steps up to the plate.