Why is (or was) God silent is a key question for believers. Why was God silent when Christians were prosecuted and died for their religion in the 17th century in Japan? Why was God silent when Jews were prosecuted by the Catholic Inquisition and died for their religion at the very same time? Or when Christians fought and killed each other in the European religious wars in the same century? Or during the Holocaust? Or today when people are prosecuted, fly for their lives and die for their religion in so many parts of the Globe? Is (or was) God silent? Or maybe He did speak and we did not hear Him? Those are the questions asked in Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Are these questions asked in a generic manner, or just limited to his own faith, and to the specific period he deals with? Are the answers the film gives convincing?
The answer may depend on the viewer’s close or remote relation to faith. The story of the two Catholic priests who are traveling in AD 1640 in Japan at one of the most cruel periods of persecution of Christians, their encounter with the different culture and religions, their fight to help the devote local Catholics who were continuing to stick to their belief, their own personal fight with the doubts and the apparent silence of the Divinity, their dilemma the ultimate choice that they need to make between saving lives and their own soul, between martyrdom and apostasy – all these may speak a lot to believers in general and Catholics in particular. From that perspective, this is the story of Via Dolorosa with a different ending. What if as viewer one does not belong to either of these categories? These viewers are left with a film of exquisite cinematographic beauty but with a slow and unconvincing story telling, quite surprising for a master director as Martin Scorsese is.
There is a secondary story here of the relationship between the priest father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and the local fisherman who helps and then betrays the two priests Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka). It’s an extension of the Jesus – Judah story, a continuation maybe of the relation between the two described in Scorsese’s 1988 The Last Temptation of Christ, and one more work that deals with the story of Judah, part of a trend of ‘rehabilitation’ of the character, at least in films and books. I liked this part, and the acting in general (not to forget Liam Neeson who always fills any screen he is on). I liked less the long off-line monologue which becomes quite repetitive at some point, the ‘Deus ex machina’ off-screen voice that shows up at a key moment, and the odd epilogue that does not add too much to the story, is told in a different style and from a different perspective. Maybe it’s just Scorsese’s way of making sure that we place the story he is telling in the historical context? Did he really need this?
One of my friends wrote after reading the original version of my short review: ‘It is an experience more than a movie to watch.’ I agree with her. Seeing Silence is like visiting a church. Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers, everybody has a different experience, remarks and appreciates different things.