Directed by Martin Scorsese and staring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson, Silence is a film about 17th century Jesuit Priests seeking to spread their faith in Japan. The film depicts their persecution and struggles as the Japanese hierarchy sought to uproot Christianity in Japan.
Japan’s resistance to foreign influence was strong, and Christianity was no exception. The story of Silence centers around two Priests who set out to find one of their mentors after his letters from Japan cease and rumor is heard of his denial of Christianity. The Priests seek to spread their faith and find their lost mentor while hiding from Japanese authorities. A story of loyalty and betrayal, belief and unbelief, and faithfulness and unfaithfulness follows.
Silence is a deep and heavy film to watch. It explores cultural conflict, compares and contrasts faiths, poses deep theological and philosophical questions, and challenges the definition of truth. Is truth universal, international, national, cultural, or personal? Is truth dependent upon the circumstances that surround the truth seeker? Is it permissible for a person to repeatedly publicly deny his or her faith while privately believing that faith to be right and true?
Silence is a great precursor to the philosophical question – Is it right or permissible to lie in defense of self or others? Lying for protection from injustice and oppression is often considered an okay if not right thing to do. Modern Biblical theologians might argue the forgivable nature of denying one’s faith, but modern theologians did not have to be faced with the challenges of these 17th century Jesuit Priests.
Silence also has a lot to say about belief in a higher power in general. As the title suggests, God does not rise to the defense of the people being oppressed by the Japanese rulers. There are rare suggestions of God’s presence, but the Priests mostly pray and suffer in silence. This leads to questioning the existence of God along with the reasoning behind unwavering profession of faith.
Though much can be said about the disturbing behavior and reasoning of the persecutors, Silence is about the persecuted. Did the people these priests were ministering to even understand what the priests were endeavoring to teach them? Were the priests accurately communicating and the people adequately interpreting the priests’ conception of God? Were the people dying for God or for paradise? If the priests beliefs were true but the peoples’ faith was flawed, were the priests simply hastening these peoples’ path to hell?
Silence is about the thin line between faithfulness and apostasy, and what it takes to reach and cross that line. Why should these Priests have died for a silent God? What is the promise of a paradise never physically experienced when compared to the tangible stuff of life and the relief of pain? If God exists, Who is God, and is God worth our lives? If a person decides God is not worth her or his life, is God merciful enough to accept that person back?
Those may be some of the questions that Silence leaves with its audience, and especially for people of faith, those may be some important questions to consider.