“You make a deal. You figure out how much sin you can live with.” – Martin Scorsese
Silence is a movie that has been a project of Martin Scorsese’s for over 25 years. Based on a novel published in 1966 that won the Tanizaki Prize (one of the most prestigious literary awards in Japan) it tells the story of two Jesuit priests who journey from Macao to Japan in search of another Jesuit priest who has disappeared. Worse yet, the two are told by Father Alessandro Valignano (Ciarian Hinds) that Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson) renounced his faith while being tortured. “Father Sebastião Rodrigues” (Andrew Garfield) and “Father Francisco Garupe” (Adam Driver) do not believe their mentor would become apostate and volunteer to go to Japan and find him.
They enlist the help of a Japanese fisherman living in drunken exile in China. “Kichijiro” (Yōsuke Kubozuka) is just happy to be going home. He denies being a Christian but we find out later why he initially engages in this subterfuge. He leads them to Tomogi, a small village where they are welcomed by the many “Hidden Christians” there. The Sakoku Edicts prohibit the practice of any faith from outside Japan. In fact, there is an inquisitor named Inoue Masashige (Issey Ogata) who has been appointed to root out the Hidden Christians and force them to renounce their faith. They are tortured until they step on a fumi-e which is a likeness of Jesus or Mary.
The two priests begin holding masses and hearing confessions in the village and soon journey to another village, the home of Kichijiro where there are more Hidden Christians. But their presence becomes known and soon the Inquisitor and his samurai come to Tomogi searching for Hidden Christians and the foreign priests rumored to be in Japan.
So Fathers Rodrigues and Garupe decide to separate and continue to minister to the Hidden Christians as well as continuing the search for Father Ferreira. Father Rodrigues is ultimately betrayed to the Inquisitor by Kichijiro. As the Inquisitor’s prisoner, Father Rodrigues is subjected to pressure to become apostate and ultimately learns of Father Ferreira’s fate.
After giving a terrific turn in Hacksaw Ridge, Andrew Garfield comes up with another superior performance. Father Rodrigues experiences joy and agony in the extreme in his time in Japan and Garfield gives both with equal commitment. Adam Driver is also excellent although he has much less time on screen. Liam Neeson is solid in a performance that is mostly a combination of few words and many facial expressions. How he came to where he wound up after being forced to renounce his chosen faith is there for everyone to see.
Martin Scorsese films are always filled with visceral visuals and this is no different. But none of the suffering seen is solely for its own sake. Every ordeal is part of the story. At more than two hours and forty minutes, Silence is long, but there is little if any “fat” to be trimmed. Taipei is not a perfect stand-in for the uniqueness of Japan but this is a movie about the people, not the land. All in all, Silence is worth every minute.