I can’t say that “Silence” is an entertaining film, but it’s certainly an emotionally charged and thought-provoking one.
A long-simmering pet project of director Martin Scorsese, “Silence” is based on the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo. Set in the 1600s, the film opens with Jesuit priest Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) watching a half-dozen Christians being tortured to death in Nagasaki, Japan. Father Ferreira has come to the land of the rising sun to spread the gospel of the son of God. The authorities will stop at nothing to make sure Christianity doesn’t take root in Japan.
Back home in Portugal, word reaches Jesuit priest Alessandro Valignano (Ciaran Hinds) that Ferreira committed apostasy while in Japan and has not been seen since. Two of Ferreira’s students, Father Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) can’t believe their mentor would renounce the faith, so they decide to travel to Japan to seek the truth.
Assisting them on this dangerous mission is Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), a broken-down, alcoholic young man who was the best guide they could come up with. Kichijiro plays a recurring role in the film, always seeking forgiveness for his sins — of which he commits many in the course of the story.
The trio arrive in a small village where there is an underground community of Christians. The authorities show up soon after, taking three of the villagers prisoner in hopes this will convince the others to give up the priests. When that doesn’t move the peasants, the prisoners are slowly, and publicly, tortured to death.
Not wanting any more innocent blood on their hands, the priests separate and continue their search for Ferreira. From here the story focuses on Father Rodrigues, who is quickly captured and imprisoned. The bulk of this 2-hour, 40-minute film centers around the attempts to break Rodrigues.
The preferred method of breaking a priest is to torture and murder his fellow Christians. In between these unspeakable acts of violence, Rodrigues debates religion and how it relates to Japan with his interpreter (Tadanobu Asano) and the Japanese Inquisitor (Issey Ogata).
It’s one thing to be a martyr with your own life but to let others die in your stead? How many people should be killed before Rodrigues renounces his faith? And will he? Should he be trying to spread the Christian faith in Japan in the first place?
“Silence” offers no easy answers. It’s a brutal yet compelling film. The acting is powerful and the cinematography is first-rate. It’s a long film, especially since so much of it is taken up by suffering and torture. I don’t know if “Silence” provides enlightenment but it certainly gives you a lot to think about.