So, religion, eh? There’s no doubt Silence deals with a heavy subject matter, but I’ve also got to respect how it delves into the heaviest facets of such heavy subject matter. Silence is not afraid to work for every conclusion it comes to.
When Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) goes missing after witnessing Japanese torturing Christians, Portuguese priests Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) go looking for him. In their epic journey, they encounter many persecuted Japanese Christians whom they help by attending to their long-neglected faith. Ultimately, they are faced with a Japanese lords and samurai demanding they apostatize, renouncing Christianity as an example to the Christian of Japan.
Whatever your faith, this battle is provocative drama philosophically. If oppressors are demanding you renounce your faith, do you go along with it to save lives, not only yours but hundreds or thousands of others? Or do you die for your beliefs? The tortures inflicted upon Christians are graphic and harrowing enough to make any viewer sympathetic to ending the violence and suffering.
It’s interesting that nobody suggests going along with apostatizing and faking it. The process is they make Christians step on a bronze plate with an image of Christ, or sometimes spit on a crucifix to prove they no longer believe. Well, what if you just stepped on the plate and knew in your heart that you didn’t mean it and that God certainly knew you were pretending so that you could live another day to continue practicing faith privately?
Perhaps my ability to think duplicitously means my faith is not deep enough. If I can pretend to be bad when really I’m good, what’s to say that any of my good deeds are sincere? They could be pretend too. Or is going along with oppression not worth survival anyway?
I certainly understand that if the priest apostatizes, it’s over for them. The church wouldn’t accept “I was only pretending to step on the face of our Lord and savior. Takesies backies.” That’s why it’s so important to the oppressors that they get the priests to apostatize. If the leaders fall, the masses will follow.
If the two hour and 39 minute run time concerns you, I can attest that the film moves as the drama builds up to this volatile state gradually. It begins with Rodrigues and Garupe simply hearing confession from villagers who’ve been abandoned for months or years. Just giving them the basics most practicing Christians would take for granted is a huge step to restoring them, but also emphasizes the priests’ limited ability to heal. The villagers are also starving and sick. The priests can’t fix that.
It gets a little bit into Arrival territory by the end when priests are discussing the translation of religion, which alters the very concepts of faith. That a religious debate can be among the most thrilling scenes in cinema is why Scorsese is a master. Nothing is easy, let alone my glib idea that you could just pretend to be apostatizing. The oppressors would know. You can’t fool them. They’re masters at breaking spirits.
If there are any missteps in Silence, I could say there are a few spots where I felt the film reached a natural conclusion, but continued again. I was never dissatisfied with the continuation but perhaps the flow could’ve been smoothed over. I also found the Portuguese accents distracting. At least Garfield and Driver committed, but if they’re speaking English anyway it might not have been the best choice. Neeson didn’t even bother and his example may have been the one to follow. The Japanese actors are standouts, with Yosuke Kubozuka as a sympathetic character who’ll break your heart and Issey Ogata playing a terrifying villain you’ll never forget.