‘Silence’ makes a deafening boom

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An aspect of history, and especially Jesuit history, that often does not receive much attention, is the Jesuits’ time in feudal Japan during the 17th century. Though seemingly trivial, this episode shaped many Japanese apprehensions toward contact with the West until the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry in the 1850s. Such is the scene for “Silence,” a poignant, underrated film that speaks urgently to the notion of staying true to one’s convictions in the midst of hostility.

The film represents the culmination of a 28-year effort by director Martin Scorsese to adapt an American film from the 1966 novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. He pulled out all the stops in what is set to be one of his most thought-provoking works.

The film begins with two Portuguese Jesuits, Sebastio Rodrigues (Andrew Gar- field) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) discover that their mentor, Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has renounced his faith under pain of torture and has not been heard from since his last letter.

The two decide to head to Japan to search for Father Ferreira, with the help of a Japanese Christian convert named Kichijiro. Once they reach Japan, they struggle to hide amongst the Japanese converts, but ultimately fall into the trap of the samurai governor of Nagasaki, Inoue Masashige. Rodrigues and Garupe bear witness to not only their suffering, but also to that of the Japanese Christians, and begin to wonder if their attempts to spread Christianity are really worth the needless suffering that their faith admonishes them to endure for the sake of Christ.

Though “Silence” has been rated R for “some disturbing violent content,” torture scenes are kept to a minimum, but are highly effective when they do occur, serving as a means to further complicate Rodrigues’ and Garupe’s already troubled psyches. Scorsese effectively directs a film that relies more on psychological torment to help the audience connect with the struggles of his protagonists.

In many places, the film lives up to its name, utilizing a minimal musical score to convey the sounds that can be heard in silence—whether they be crickets, the roar of the ocean, the rustling wind, thoughtful meditation or psychological agony. This was a device that Scorsese also used to great effect in his psychological thriller “Shutter Island.” The camera angles often widely pan to give a more detached perspective to the story, allowing the viewer to feel an even greater sense of powerlessness to intervene as the story takes a turn for the worse.

Perhaps because the source material is a novel by a Japanese author, the film depicts the philosophical and cultural obstacles the Jesuits must cross to spread Christianity in great detail. This is especially important when Inoue tells Rodrigues that Japan is a “swamp” where new ideas do not easily take root.

When one considers the isolation Japan experienced as an island nation for much of its history, and the isolation it imposed upon Western visitors, the idea of the “swamp” becomes all the more poignant.

For a time, Western travelers could enter Japan unhindered. However, as the ruling shoguns realized the power Christianity had to sway the population, they confined all foreigners, by this point only Dutch traders, to the island of Nagasaki, where many died of starvation.

Despite its remarkable historical accuracy, critical praise, and unflinching depiction of serious subject matter, “Silence” has made only $12.5 million at the box office on a $40 million budget and only received one Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography.

However, this lackluster reception should not deter potential viewers, especially those familiar with Martin Scorsese’s work. He has added yet another quality film to his repertoire, and a deeply meditative film that, if a pun can be excused, deserves no more silence about it.