Religion is a subject capable of arousing great emotion among both believers and non-believers. Martin Scorsese’s Silence is essentially concerned with adherents of one religion attempting to proselytise in a foreign land where the predominant religious system is so utterly alien as to be almost unassailable. To the point where even the incoming missionaries might have to abandon the faith which they seek to spread.
That land is 17th century Japan where Christianity has been outlawed and believers practise their faith in secret as Kakure Kirishitan (“hidden” Christians). Two Jesuit priests, Father Garupe (Adam Driver) and Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) are smuggled into the country in order to find the older Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who is rumoured to have denounced his faith. After spending time with local believers, they are captured by the authorities who proceed to torture the Japanese Christians and make the priests watch, thereby encouraging them to renounce the Jesus they adore and serve.
Having discovered Japanese Christian novelist Shusako Endo’s book around the time of The Last Temptation Of Christ’s 1988 release, Scorsese spent about 25 years working with co-writer Jay Cocks on a screenplay. In this story of men out of their depth in a foreign culture, you feel Scorsese understands not only the Portuguese priests and the Japanese believers they meet (who include Shinya Tsukamoto, director of 1989 Japanese horror Tetsuo: The Iron Man) but also travelling inquisitor Inoue (Issey Ogata) and his cunning interpreter (Asano Tadanobu).
The director who once had union rep David Carradine crucified on the side of a railroad cattle wagon in Boxcar Bertha (1972) and turned Robert De Niro into a death-dealing avenging angel at the end of Taxi Driver (1977) here inflicts assorted lethal tortures on groups of Japanese believers who won’t recant: rapid drowning or burning alive after being rolled up in straw mats, slow drowning in the rising tide by crucifixion on the coast or hanging upside down with a puncture-wound to the neck so that the blood drains from the body.
Being forced to watch all this suffering, the priests find themselves grappling with unsettling questions about their Christian beliefs. Where is God while this cruelty is being meted out? Does He suffer with them in silence? Does He even exist? When Rodrigues finally meets Ferreira at the end of the movie, what he learns from the encounter will challenge the very framework from which he asks these questions.
Silence is out in cinemas on Sunday, January 1st. Don’t forget to watch the film trailer below!