I was worried that Martin Scorsese‘s Silence (2016), based on the fine Shusaku Endo novel, was ready to deem Christian apostasy no more unfortunate or dismaying than Christian commitment, but happily it refuses to do so. The honest and truthful content in Endo’s book about tortured and executed Catholic believers in 17th century Japan is properly transferred to the film—making it a soberly Christian film—though perhaps with too little understanding of the inclinations of the faithful.
Two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) sail to Japan to find a missionary padre (Liam Neeson) said to be “lost” to the Church. This man, Father Ferreira, was a real-life figure driven to apostasy by torture, albeit before his death he supposedly recanted. When Ferreira tells Father Rodrigues (Garfield) that Japanese converts who are martyred die not for Christ but for the ministering priests, it does not ring true at all. Yet there is no one in the film to positively belie this. To me this is a flaw, but at any rate Silence is benignly spiritual and winningly profound. Its concerns must be respected. The inhumanity and suffering are relentless, with one of those concerns being the silence of God while His servants are agonized. The Japanese authorities might as well be ISIS or (possibly) the North Korean government. But, truth to tell, it is Christ Who subtly prevails.
Scorsese’s movie is just as notable a work of art as the novel. Its 165-minute length underscores that time keeps bringing to the Christians the necessity for making hard decisions, for thinking how to stave off further horror. There is, sadly, much to figure out.