February 3, 2017/
Gear up, get ready, Silence is 161 minutes long, and uses every one of them profoundly.
Silence follows the story of two 17th century Portuguese missionaries who undertake a perilous journey to Japan to search for their missing mentor, Father Christavao Ferreira (Liam Neeson), and to spread the gospel of Christianity. As they search for their mentor they minister to Japanese Christians in hiding, worshipping in secret, encouraging one another to persevere in faith despite torturous national persecution.
Based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 award-winning novel (which Director Martin Scorsese became enamored with 1988), Silence dips into history starting off with an historical Church scandal that had wide reverberations – the detection in Japan of a Jesuit Superior, Father Christovao Ferreira, who renounced his religion, became a Buddhist scholar and took a Japanese wife. With hopes to find Ferriera and disprove those claims, Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Fransisco Garupe (Adam Driver) begin their quest, venturing in to a broad examination of God’s silence in the face of suffering, and evangelical Christianity.
To say that Silence will give you a lot to think about is an understatement.
Spanning the realms of spiritual doubt, the universality of truth, persecution’s relevance within the church, and the cultural ignorance of missionaries, Silence feels like a thorough bare-naked medical exam… that leaves you emotionally stunned.
Unlike brief telling’s of modern persecution and redemption, Silence goes deeper, depicting sustained religious tension, making our certainty in Christ seem abrasive if not selfish. Continually Rodrigues and Garupe must justify a faith that sees people killed, and reconcile it with a loving God. Rather than celebrate the martyrdom Rodrigues refers to as the “seed of the church”, Silence seems to suggest dying to our pride would truly see the church grow and Jesus embraced.
Taking close to 15 years to produce, it’s no wonder Silence is comprehensive.
In choosing the role Garfield said, “The story confronts such deep and difficult material, timeless, huge in scope, huge in emotion. [Rodrigues] wrestles with the great and most important questions we all wrestle with – how to live a meaningful life, a life of faith, and does that require you to live in doubt as well.” The greatest of which seems to be not doubt in God or His offer of salvation, but rather how our faith is applied across cultures, and whether or not it can thrive in all arenas. Scorsese notes, “Christianity is based on faith but if you study its history you see that it’s had to adapt itself over and over again, always with great difficulty, if order that faith might flourish.”
For all it’s questions one great reality remains apparent: Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Under the hand of repeated attack, Rodrigues and Garupe are crying out to love right, and love well. The drawbacks of their own imperfections are painfully loud, yet it’s Jesus they want to honour.
Silence is a beautifully engaging journey through faith’s darkest realities and its foundation for hope. Scorsese’s picturesque direction and (mostly) ‘clean’ violence give gravitas to the harrowing reality of persecution, but affirm Silence isn’t a mainstream weekend-watch at the cinema. In Scorsese’s words, “Silence is the story of a man who learns – so painfully – that God’s love is more mysterious than he knows, that He leaves much more in the ways of men than we might realize, and that He is always present… even in His silence.”
High point: Andrew Garfield’s stoic portrayal of religious affliction.
Low point: Witnessing the injustice of ignorance and misunderstanding.
Best digested with: Sushi and a stiff cider.
Silence is in Australian cinemas February 16th.
More reviews on The Connect Press.
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