SILENCE Is A Hard-To-Watch Meditation On Faith And Doubt Martin Scorsese has no time for affirmation
As a religious person, it’s weird to sometimes see other people of faith forget that they are people of faith. Oftentimes, the word is faith is treated like the word truth. But, at its core, that’s not what faith is. Faith is believing in something despite everything else. There is always a struggle to maintain that faith, because every once in a while doubt can creep in, even for those of us with the most powerful faith.
Martin Scorsese is a filmmaker who has grappled with this in his work, and his latest film, Silence, is entirely about it. We follow two Jesuit priests from Portugal who head out to Japan, which has banned Christianity and is undergoing an inquisition, to find their mentor.
Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver’s priests are in an extremely dangerous situation. If anyone finds them, they could be turned over to the inquisitors for a reward. And then they will be executed, made an example of. They soon find out that the inquisitors have moved past that strategy, instead hoping to break the priest’s faith by punishing their followers to punish them.
This framing is actually just a conduit to allow Scorsese to explore faith and doubt, and he specifically uses Garfield’s Rodrigues to funnel all his meditations. Unfortunately, Silence is less interested in the plight of the Japanese Christians who prey in secret and is more interested in the two Portuguese priests and testing their faith. This actually undermines the entire premise of the film, because these two men struggle during a visit in an environment where the Japanese Christians have to live.
Instead, Scorsese decides to take the faith of one man and push it to the brink. Here is someone who believes they have the truth of the world, his specific religion, coming to a part of the world he believes he can free by spreading his faith. Unfortunately for his mission, the Japanese do not want this brand of colonialism in any shape or form.
Rodrigues’ faith is soon questioned in every possible form. He prays for suffering to end and receives no answer, and he’s bombarded with logic by Tadanobu Asano’s cerebral interpreter. This is where Silence excels, as it pokes and examines what faith is and what makes it so powerful and necessary for so many people.
If you’re being persecuted, and practicing your faith in public means death, what do you do? Does publicly renouncing your faith to save your life really mean you have have given up on faith? Can you truly physically give up on your faith or is it something deeper that cannot be fully expressed? How do you wrestle with doubt when your prayers are met with nothing but silence? Does it waiver when it’s tested, when you can’t go through the rituals that usually accompany faith?
These are the questions Silence is grappling with, and it grapples with them from an honest perspective. The film is seeking out answers, exploring possibilities and paths in its own search for answers. The film eventually settles on an answer, but not before opening your own mind to your own struggles with faith.
Everyone in this film is fantastic. Garfield perfectly captures the madness of a man who is having his belief system broken down inside him, while many of the Japanese actors around him, including Asano, Issei Ogata’s inquisitor, Yoshi Oida’s Ichizo, Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s Mokichi and Yosuke Kubozaka’s Kichijiro are excellent. You really feel their impact on Rodrigues, and you’ll want to see more of their stories even though Silence isn’t particularly invested in them as anything other than ways to stretch Rodrigues.
Silence isn’t for everyone. It comes from such an honest place that it’s hard to imagine non-religious audiences fully understanding what it’s trying to do. It’s even more difficult to imagine religious audiences who are used to films about religious affirming their belief rather than prodding it embracing its questions. For those on the razer-thin niche Silence is made for, it’s a movie that’ll leave them with questions and thoughts about their faith for days.
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