Since its publication in 1966, Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, a story of Portuguese missionaries in 17th-century Japan, has moved and challenged Christian and non-Christian readers alike. Reportedly, Martin Scorsese has been trying to adapt the book since his first reading more than 25 years ago. Like Endo’s novel and Scorsese’s previous examinations of faith, this film offers more questions than answers.
Two priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), are sent to find their former teacher, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Ferreira has reportedly apostatized, renouncing his faith and publicly stepping on Christ’s image. These public renunciations by priests and Christians are demanded to escape torture or death at the hands of Japanese security officials, part of a systematic campaign to rid the country of Christianity.
Soon the priests themselves observe the brutality that broke Father Ferreira. For Rodrigues, these crises not only challenge his faith in a just and merciful God but have him questioning his basic grasp on what is right. Will saving these people demand sacrificing his faith itself? As he wrestles with doubt, faith, mercy, and pride, it is unclear if he more closely follows Jesus, Peter, or Judas.
The film can be painful to watch at times, but is rarely gruesome. The greatest anguish we observe is emotional, not physical. The actors all turn in strong performances, though Oscars seem unlikely. The film’s pace is measured, and at 161 minutes, it is best viewed deliberately, not because “La La Land” was sold out.
Some Christians may leave the movie uncomfortable with the questions the film does not answer or the implied challenges to the church. The questions it asks, however, are valuable and honest. The novel’s author, Shusaku Endo, himself a Japanese Christian, offered a perspective rarely revealed to Christians from the West. Through Scorsese’s adaptation, it seems, Silence may haunt some filmgoers the way the novel has haunted the director for over 25 years. (Paramount)