Silence written by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese, directed by Martin Scorsese (Paramount Pictures, Cappa DeFina Productions, CatchPlay, EFO Films, R, 161 min)
Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Ciarán Hinds, Issei Ogata, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Yoshi Oida, and Yôsuke Kubozuka.
Searching for Rootedness
Is there a way for a tree to find roots in a swamp? And if not, is there a way to discover meaning and life without the particular landscaping strategy that includes this tree? Martin Scorsese raises this question in his divine masterwork, Silence. The central challenge to the Christian faith emerges in its application, like an arborist planting trees everywhere. If Christianity is true, should it not apply to all people and all cultures? If a tree brings life to an ecosystem, should it not flourish no matter where it is? And yet, what does a first-century middle eastern man have to do with a variety of cultures all over the world?
How does everlasting truth mingle with lived experience? Truthfully, I struggle with this question, especially as this year comes to an end. My origins seem increasingly inclined to betray me. The older I get, my convictions shift. Even though my belief—I would argue—situates me clearly within historically rooted faith, I find myself alienated from the civic-branded evangelicalism of my youth. Is the tree planted in American soil able to flourish? Or is it a swamp where it will eventually wither away? I don’t know the answer anymore.
With these emotions percolating, Martin Scorsese’s Silence moves me, almost as much as the novel from which it comes.
A Jesuit Mission
Narratively, Silence follows Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), Jesuits searching for their teacher, Ferreira (Liam Neeson) in Shogun-era Japan.
Recently, Japanese authorities have outlawed Christianity and vicious waves of persecution follow. Many Jesuits face martyrdom, unless they apostatize. Rodrigues and Garupe smuggle themselves into Japan fearful of Ferreira’s possible apostasy, but missionally driven to find the truth.
Venturing to the outer island with the help of Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka) as a guide, the priests begin to pastor the peasants, most of whom cling to a rudimentary form of Christianity as an escape from oppressive rule.
As Rodrigues and Garupe venture inland in search of Ferreira, danger ratchets up and questions of faith intensifies.
Rodrigues, in particular, exemplifies the Christ complex. Unwavering in his faith, he believes suffering and martyrdom the pinnacle of his cause. Yet, as persecution increases, authorities increase the suffering of lowly Christian peasants when the priests refuse apostasy.
Quickly, the nobleness of true belief shatters in the face of suffering. What is it, if not pride, to remain steadfast when doing so causes unmentionable suffering for others?
This earth-shattering question moves me ever since I first read Endo’s acclaimed work. What right do I have to live unmoved in a world that suffers? How can I cling to a perceived truth if that truth benefits very few? Instead of planting trees all over the yard, should I be considering what fits and how it best benefits the local fauna?
The belief systems governing the world today links closely with the prideful bill of goods comprising the character of Rodrigues. Can truth be considered true if it hurts countless on its way to fulfilling its truthfulness?
I’m more inclined to say no.
With Silence, Scorsese crafts a stunning masterwork exploring the nuances of faith and doubt within the context of the cultures such faith purportedly serves. Go watch it. Make it a holiday tradition.
Verdict: 5 out of 5