Silence and the Plight of the Good Christian

I consider myself a believer of the Christian faith, and most films about my faith have been really didactic and preach-y. That’s why I favor films like Silence. I’ve been waiting for this film for a long time, since I know Scorsese has brought interesting perspectives on Christianity to his films, and this will be a great exploration of faith. The day came, I bought my tickets, I watched for nearly 3 hours, and I was blown away.

Silence is about two priests, Father Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver), sent in a mission to discover the whereabouts of their mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), and spreading Christianity in Japan in the process. This was during the Tokugawa shogunate, where Japan is still closed to the outside world and Christianity is outlawed, so Japanese Christians (or also called Kakure Kirishitan) had to practice the faith in secret – performing masses in the dead of night, protecting missionaries from the shogunate, and disguising elements of Christianity in Buddhist trademarks. Throughout the film, Japanese Christians and Portuguese missionaries are constantly captured by the shogunate, forcing them to renounce their faith by stepping on a stone with engravings of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary (also called fumi-e) or having to be killed or tortured instead. Among these Kakure Kirishitan are Ichizo (Yoshi Oida), leader of one of the Christian villages, Monica (Nana Komatsu), a woman with a strong faith and a baptized name, and Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), a Christian with lots of character conflict and an uncertainty to defend his faith.

The technical elements of this film is superb – the cinematography highlights rural Japan and the jidaigeki (period-era Japan) aesthetic Scorsese wishes to achieve, and it is very, very pretty to look at. The audio landscape fuses Japanese folk music with the natural sounds in the film, and it creates a suspenseful atmosphere and an eerie sense of hope. The pace is pretty slow for some people (I’ve watched one of the slowest films in history so it wasn’t really a problem for me), but the great thing is that it creates a “slow burn” feeling and that each scene that has a monumental impact will linger in your mind for a long time, and it does apply to the film in general as you leave the theater. (I was in a theater with eight people watching. Six of us stayed until the main credits end and the rolling credits start. We leave slowly and quietly.)

silence-00450-h_2016_0.jpgAndrew Garfield and Adam Driver as two Portuguese priests in a mission to Japan.

Performance-wise, this film is pretty good. I like how Andrew Garfield tackles the psychologically exhausting role of Father Rodrigues and at some times he really resonates the feeling of his character, but sadly, at some times he seem really bland. Same goes with his Portuguese accent, that keeps on appearing and disappearing. Yet, I really like his performance and I can’t wait to see his other projects (including his next venture in theatre, in which he plays one of my favorite characters in one of my favorite plays!). Adam Driver takes an interesting turn in playing a minor but vital character in Father Garrpe. Issei Ogata is Inoue Masashige, the samurai who searches for Christians and tortures them, and he did a really great job in bringing this interesting, antagonistic character to life, and it is fascinating to watch his dialogues with the arrested Christians. Yet, the most interesting performance in this film is Yosuke Kubozuka’s turn as Kichijiro, who is a drunk Japanese Catholic who is always in limbo about his faith and his fear of the shogunate. His performance reminds me of Toshiro Mifune’s memorable role as Kikuchiyo in Seven Samurai – Yosuke Kubozuka really channels the eccentricity and the internal doubt of the character, and I didn’t really expect Kichijiro being one of the characters I relate to the most in this film.

Silence is an exhausting 160-minute film to watch – our main character is faced with all sorts of trials and tribulations along his journey. Unlike The Revenant, in which we watch almost 3 hours of Leonardo Dicaprio’s physique being tortured, in Silence we watch almost 3 hours of Andrew Garfield’s soul being tortured. After years of banning Christians in Japanese land, the shogunate has developed a torture method that is far beyond the physical realm. This mental strain that Father Rodrigues has to endure puts him into a corner of renouncing his faith, and puts him into a string of dilemmatic scenarios that concerns life and death. Silence is a fascinating study on how faith and hope works in an oppressive community. For me, it is easier to watch The Passion of the Christ, a similarly Christian film about martyrdom, since we know that Jesus rose on the third day and salvation is guaranteed for Christians who believe in Him. In Silence, we have no guarantee for the wellbeing of the protagonist and the Kakure Kirishitan in general. Yet, even though this film has Christian ideas, the central theme of the test of faith is universal for viewers who are both believers or non-believers.

As a Christian, I was deeply moved by this film. I am one who believes in God, yet I have a really hard time in actually practicing it in real life, and sometimes I doubt my prayers (“I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?” laments Father Rodrigues), and that’s what makes this film feels like more than a usual film to me. Everyone must have a history of believing (or not believing) in a supreme being, and shifting througout that thin line of believing-nonbelieving. In Silence, even the most religious pastors must endure the disturbing torture by the shogunate, and they find themselves shifting in that thin line as well. We are also posed with the question, what does it mean to follow the path of Christ? (Or, what does it mean to believe in a higher being and paying respect to that higher being through our actions?) Father Rodrigues is faced with this question multiple times, and eventually, to the extreme. Through this film, we can see how faith works as a beacon of hope in oppressed communities through the lens of a protagonist assigned with a deeply religious task, with doubts of his own. Perhaps through Father Rodrigues’s doubts, we can consider ours as well, and thus this film will cease to be just a film – it will be an retrospection for the soul.


(Note: Since I’m a broke college student, and I’ve been given lots of requests for arthouse film reviews, I’m opening a Paypal donation button in the widget bar of my blog! Donated funds will be for the expensive prices of movie tickets – which can cost up to $14 per film – and also for transport to my nearest arthouse cinema, which is 18 miles away. In return, more films will be reviewed here. Thank you for your kind donation and support!)

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