Two quick points on why Martin Scorsese’s evangelical fervor must be debated. One, for a benign believer with a disinclination for proselytizing or religious conversion, the very premise of converting another man to your faith is distasteful. Also, the 1600s were barbaric days and it’s patently unfair to use the savage torture of those days to appeal to today’s refined sensitivities. Therefore, when the filmmaker seeks empathy for the Christian Japanese and their priests who were forced with inhuman cruelty to step on Jesus’ face and declare themselves apostates, the prime reaction is, why were you forcing your religion in someone else’s country in the first place?
There’s a dialogue-debate between the Japanese Inquisitor and fanatically religious Portuguese padre Rodrigues which reinforces the thought that Christians believed their God was superior to all others and thus, it was their holy duty to convert the whole world. Now that’s a belief which won’t find too many takers in a millennium that’s far more inclusive than it was in the 1600s.
Two young priests, Rodrigues and Garupe, set out to Japan to find their missing mentor Father Ferreira. It was rumored that he had turned apostate, given up his God, and settled down with a Japanese wife. Unable to accept that as the gospel truth, the two padres surreptitiously enter the land of the Rising Sun.
What they find are Japanese converts who have to practice their new faith in secrecy as they’re hounded by the Emperor’s enforcers. But the real targets are the padres who must abandon their God and their mission to save others from the cruelty.
Martin Scorsese takes his own time, 2hrs 41 minutes, to unfold his tale of religious persecution, luxuriating in the inhumanity of the Japanese who forcefully thwart all attempts to wean them away from Buddhism to embrace Christianity.
Sprinkling water from hot springs on open flesh, wrapping Christian girls in dry hay and drowning them or dangling men upside down in pits, Scorsese shows it all. It seems to particularly disturb him that the Japanese burnt the dead and didn’t give them a Christian burial.
Scorsese redeems the apostates with the last shot of the padre’s cremation that reveals what his faith really was. He also has a tribute at the end which reads: ‘To Christian Japanese and their pastors’ which sums up the religiosity that powers this film.
Andrew Garfield as Padre Rodrigues and Liam Neeson as Father Ferreira blend in with the times as they go through their roles with required fervor, frown, and inner frustration. Technically, the film is beautiful. The locations have tranquil beauty even if the proceedings are harsh. Both caught with efficiency by DOP Rodrigo Pietro.
For an indulgent film that’s out of sync with contemporary thought but would appeal to the zealously religious, Silence gets a 3* rating