I kept telling myself I needed time – lots of time – to process this film in order to even attempt to write a review of it. Because so intense and multi-layered of a moral and philosophical treatise is this film, I was afraid I would not be able to truly capture the spirit and essence of the story. Or the many underlying implications attached to it.
And yet, I could not wait more than forty-eight hours to attempt a write-up because so compelling are the themes of this film, I am beside myself trying to “process” them all, and to put into words the impression it has left on me. I can only imagine what having first read the book – that the film is based on – might have on the viewer. But having not had that advantage, I shall unequivocally share what I believe to be my thoughts and feelings about this movie.
This is a story of two young Portugese missionaries – played so very masterfully by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver – young and resolute in their Catholic faith and mettle, determined to carry on the work of their predecessor and mentor Father Ferreira (played by the most sublime Liam Neeson). Ferreira is believed to have renounced his faith in deference to the brutally anti-Christian aristocracy of Japan. How could it be that such a pillar of faith would have turned apostate in the face of persecution? Was his faith so weak? So shallow? So trivial? Was it never anchored in anything larger and stronger than himself?
These are no ordinary questions, nay, these are extraordinary questions, and require extraordinary courage to seek answers. What follows is a quest that leads the two young missionaries on a soul-searing journey in seventeeth-century Japan – an ancient land in which the Buddha is revered – and the two discover an overwhelming love of Christ that compels the natives to wilfully accept and adopt the Christian faith. Furthermore, they learn that this faith has evidently taken so strong a root in them, they are willing to forsake all and be subject to dire consequences, even persecution and death.
Behind the grand and rugged scenery of Japan’s countryside and the resolute will of the ruling class to stamp out all such traces of Chrisianity, there is an utterly moving, robust story that Scorsese delivers with absolute earnestness. And just when you think nothing can shatter the will and devotion of the two young missionaries to their cause, we slowly begin to understand how and why Father Ferreira might have apostasized.
The horrific persecution of the natives for their Christian faith leaves very little to the imagination, and yet, the weighty moral and ethical dilemmas faced by the two do not render them cynical or syrupy. On the contrary, their decision to eventually give in to apostasy may be viewed as a very matter-of-fact and humane way of addressing their circumstances.
This is not a crisis of faith; this is not apostasy. This is pure love in action that is channeled by their belief in Christ that speaks just as loudly, if differently, to the non-spiritual as it does to the faithful.
For it is in this uniquely unconventional exemplification of God’s love that we see how great a sacrifice is actually being made. And how great a faith is actually being upheld and persevered. It begs the question as to what you yourself might do under the same circumstances.
And if one were to follow that line of thought: what would Christ himself do?
The only silence in ‘Silence’ is the eardrum-splitting kind of silence that sinks to the utmost corners of one’s conscience in knowing that apostasy is a much-nuanced concept, and sometimes, in life, only when things are upended in the most unimaginable ways, is there meaning, and truth, and life.