Silence (2016)
January 13, 2023 7:43 AM - Subscribe

Two 17th-century Portuguese missionaries, Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), embark on a perilous journey to Japan to find their missing mentor (Liam Neeson). While there, the two men minister to the Christian villagers who worship in secret. If caught by feudal lords or ruling samurai, they must renounce their faith or face a prolonged and agonizing death.t.

Also starring Yosuke Kubozuka, Tadanobu Asano, Issey Ogata, Shinya Tsukamoto, Yoshi Oida, Ciarán Hinds, Ryo Kase, Nana Komatsu, Béla Baptiste, Michié, Katsuo Nakamura.

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Screenplay by Jay Cocks, Martin Scorsese. Based on Silence by Shūsaku Endō.

83% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on Paramount Plus and The Roku Channel. Also available for digital rental. Justwatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (16 comments total)
Somehow there is a Martin Scorsese film I have never even heard of... weird.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:53 AM on January 13

I was not prepared for how much the very final scene would affect me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:15 AM on January 13

The subject material is right up my alley, but it also seems like a very depressing and gloomy film with a fair bit of avert your eyes types of things. Is this accurate?
posted by Atreides at 8:45 AM on January 13

Is this accurate?


So, as for the "avert your eyes" kind of stuff - that's discussed more often than seen. No graphic beheadings or anything like that; strangely, the worst tortures depicted are water-oriented (some people have boiling water poured on them, but you see that only from a distance; others are lashed to poles set up in a little bay just as the tide's coming in, etc). One character discusses another form of torture he underwent, and you hear other character's moans as they endure the same thing, but you don't see it.

As for "depressing"....I think that kinda depends on how you would deal with a couple of different theological points raised in the film. And....I'm gonna have to kind of expound upon things a bit, and will try like hell not to spoil anything...

So, Liam Neeson's character is the priest that Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver are going to go find. But they're not just following up on rumors that he's missing - they're following up on rumors that he quit the church. Neeson was both of their teachers, so they are both all "Gosh, he'd never do a thing like that, there must be some kind of explanation or it's all a lie or something." So they're going to Japan not just to find him and to minister to the secret Christians, but also to get to the bottom of "is he still with the Church or was he forced to do something or what the hell's going on".

And that kind of renunciation of the church was something that the samurai were regularly trying to make these secret Christians do. If there was a village where some Christians were said to live, they'd swing by, round everyone up, and then do something like put a picture of Jesus on the ground and order everyone, one by one, to come up and stomp on it. Or they'd one by one order everyone to say "fuck the Virgin Mary" or something similar. And if anyone, found a Christian, let's haul 'em off to be tortured.

Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield's characters get into a whole discussion about that, when some of the Japanese Christians ask them what they should do if the samurai try to pull that on them. Driver's character says they should be true to their faith and not do it, but Garfield's character is more like, "no, God wants you to live, God will understand if this is what you have to do to protect yourself and He'll be cool." At least - that's what Garfield tells regular Christians. When it comes to whether priests should do that, he has a different standard entirely.

The film does deal with Garfield's character most, and how he continues to wrestle with that question. He also regularly reflects upon how he used to feel that Jesus was speaking to him when he went to Mass, but has gone weirdly silent since he got to Japan. And Garfield repeatedly prays to God and Jesus, begging them to just flippin' say something. God's "silence" is starting to make him lose it a little; he starts to fear God has abandoned him. Or maybe God doesn't exist. Or...maybe God knows how dangerous it would be for Him to speak, so He's staying silent to avoid getting His priests in trouble.

Andrew Garfield's character was based on the true story of the priest Giuseppe Chiara. And there is a moment right at the end that turns just about everything you might be thinking at that point on its head; it's one of the reasons why this film has still been haunting me for about a year now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:10 AM on January 13 [6 favorites]

Gah, I feel like I need to lighten the mood with trivia -

Andrew Garfield discussed the making of this film on Graham Norton's show once, and said that he and Adam Driver actually visited a monestary for a week in preparation for the film, complete with a vow of silence. When they were done, they were both in the same limo bringing them on a 3-hour car ride to the airport; and he said that on the way, they had the filthiest conversation ever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:15 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Thank you for such a breakdown and answer! I think I will give the film a go now with this additional information. I have a pretty good base of knowledge for the early attempts to introduce Christianity into Japan and how it was repressed, so I've been intrigued a lot over the movie but just not sure if it was one I wanted to experience, if that makes sense.
posted by Atreides at 11:07 AM on January 13

I'm trying to remember if there is any other violence you see in it. I don't think it's anything like what you'd see in Scorcese's more popular works, at least.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:28 AM on January 13

I've only seen the 1971 version. It's, uh, dark. I've been curious about how Scorses handled it, but I haven't got around to seeing it yet.
posted by fleacircus at 4:40 PM on January 13

I've not seen the film, I confess, but have long wondered: is it (or is Scorcese) aware of the irony inherent in Jesuits complaining about religious persecution? Surely what's done to them pales in comparison to what their colleagues were doing to non-Catholics in Europe at the same time?
posted by Grangousier at 4:14 AM on January 14

(in Europe and in the colonies...)
posted by trig at 5:40 AM on January 14

The book was written by a present-day Japanese Christian, and to the extent it’s about persecution, it’s more about the Jesuits contemplating their personal duty toward the suffering of Japanese Christians, not “this is unfair what the shogun is doing to us.”
posted by chimpsonfilm at 7:19 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Also: when speaking of the Jesuits' "colleagues", I'm not clear whether you're meaning other Jesuits, or European colonists in general. It's my own understanding that Jesuits themselves weren't perpetrating any violence towards indigenous peoples (in fact, they were more commonly advocating against that, and in a couple of cases were siding with indigenous Christians against conquistadors).

Granted that the whole notion of converting people away from their existing long-held religions is a thorny issue, and I grant that there may have been a couple Jesuits who got a little over-eager to destroy pre-Christian texts or artifacts in a couple places, but I don't know of any instances of violence turned towards people. Other Christian groups, maybe (for some reason the Dominicans are coming to mind) but not the Jesuits. I'm happy to be proved wrong, however.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:45 AM on January 14

Chimpsonfilm beat me to a response to you Grangousier, but I'll add that if you're interested in questions of power, domination, and weakness in Christianity, the author of Silence, Shusaku Endo, is your man. He is very aware of all the baggage Christianity brought with it to Japan, having experienced racism at the hands of his fellow Catholics when he studied in France in the 50s. At the risk of gross oversimplification, I'd say the central question of much of his work is "What does it mean to be Japanese and Catholic in the last half of the 20th C, when so much of those identities in the first half of the 20th C were tied to violent imperialist projects?" Endo doesn't have any cut and dried answers. Most of his characters are overwhelmed by the moral ambiguity of the world they find themselves in, experiencing occassional moments of clarity but unsure of how to apply them in their actions. Themes of weakness and failure facilitating grace come up again and again. It's harrowing to be a character in an Endo story, but it's also weirdly hopeful for the reader. I'm neither Japanese nor Catholic, but the way that despair happens and then is moved beyond in so many Endo stories got me through a lot of rough stuff in my late teens and early twenties.
posted by nangua at 7:46 AM on January 14

There was a period of time when prominent Sengoku daimyo like Oda Nobunaga were trying to leverage foreign Christian priests and converts against native Buddhist Ikko-Ikki rebellions.

But Nobunaga's successors, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and then Tokugawa Ieyasu, gradually grew to see Christians as a growing fifth-column which would undermine their own interests.

And they weren't wrong.

There were a series of situations like the San Felipe incident, where the connection between Christianity and colonization were confirmed.

In 1596, Matías de Landecho, the captain of a shipwrecked Spanish galleon was treated well by the local lord, Mashita Nagamori, so much so that Landecho felt comfortable bragging about the Spanish colonial system.

He volunteered the fact that the Spanish would send missionaries in to proselytize a country they wanted to colonize, and then send conquistadors to join the converted native people to invade the potential colony.

Nagamori promptly reported this to his lord, Chosokabe Motochika, who then told Hideyoshi directly. Hideyoshi was already suspicious toward Christians, and this was just another data point to add to the growing list of incidents.

I can't possibly speak to Landecho's motivations for this kind of diplomatic hubris, but since his ship and its cargo had been confiscated, I can imagine a scenario where he is trying to bluster and insinuate consequences for not returning his property.
posted by ishmael at 1:03 PM on January 14

I've not seen the film, I confess, but have long wondered: is it (or is Scorcese) aware of the irony inherent in Jesuits complaining about religious persecution?

I just read an interview transcript with Scorsese about this movie. From my reading, I think the direct answer to your question is no. I think he has some understanding of the political context, and he's not out to vilify Japan or anything... but also, he does think Christianity is good stuff and should be spread around — but not like that. Apparently he tried to become a missionary himself when he was young.

Relevant part starts with this and the following:
Do you see any parallel between what [Christianity] offers the Japanese [in “Silence”], and what Christianity offered you?

I think I can. Again, I think we have to respect that culture, though. I was there a few weeks ago, and one of the actors said he wasn’t a very religious person, but, he said, “I do feel that my ancestors are looking out for me.” I was surprised. It’s another way of thinking. I think we have to respect that way of thinking. We have to respect that culture somehow. How can we introduce the elements of Christian faith in a culture that is so different, that is so completely the opposite of who we are?

Yet, [both] the book and you, in the film, show the Jesuits trying hard.

Trying. Absolutely trying, and [with] the best intentions. The question is ultimately, was that the best approach?


That was the question. It’s inevitably tied in with the economics and the politics. Inevitably. Especially at that time, the 17th century, between England, and Holland, and Portugal, and Spain. Catholic versus Protestant.
posted by fleacircus at 7:02 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

mfw i see the closet/conversion/forced detrans reading of Silence
posted by fleacircus at 2:29 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

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