Silence (film): on the spiritual height


Sometimes there is a distance of a universe between the belief deeply rooted in your heart and the reality you see. How to cross that distance? Sometimes there is no way that you can ask somebody. Belief holds an enormous power over human mind. People climb mountains for beliefs, cross oceans and go to other continents, suffer intolerable pain and die with a smile on their face; but sometimes, they can’t come to the same platform with reality. What can a believer do when he/she faces that dilemma? What can they do except embrace silence like a night of the new moon in the desert?

Silence – Director Martin Scorsese’s third and the final installment of his epic religious trilogy.  The Last Temptation of Christ came out almost 30 years ago, in 1988. Then came Kundun in 1997. He fermented Silence in his mind for over 25 years. This film, adapted from the novel written by Shusaku Endo, was a risky project. It was not a film about good and evil, but the clash of what it means. It becomes a challenge simply to figure out which one is good and which one is bad.

The dilemma shown in the film is complex indeed; so is writing a review about it. it has a historical background about it, which was not elaborated in the film, I learned it from Andrew Marr’s History of the World. I think, it is better to know the history before you watch the film. So I will start with that. Those of you who already watched the film without the background, you might understand the motivation of characters (why they did what they did). Then in the second section, I will discuss a little bit without giving any critical plot point away. In the third, there will be spoilers. You might wanna watch the film before you read the third section.

Historical Background

Today’s Japan feel like very different than the others. They are different than their neighbors too. The reason lies in the history of 16th century, half a world away, in Europe. Europe was divided into two groups of Christians, Catholic and Protestants. Protestants separated from Catholics under the leaders like Martin Luther King (not the junior, please). The protestant revolution, started in Germany, was wholeheartedly accepted by the Church of England. Roman Catholics weren’t happy about that. You might know the story that in 1605, they tried to blow up the Protestant King of England along with the whole parliament; it’s called the Gunpowder Plot.

Roman Catholics were already in existence for a long time and their Portuguese Jesuits had reached to Japan in 1549. Their priests converted many Japanese Buddhists into Christians. In the beginning of the 17th century, Japanese Catholic Christians were about 300,000.

Then came the English Protestants and the Catholics didn’t take it very well. Tension arose! Because Portuguese Jesuits were influential in booming business between Japan and Spain/Portugal. But their main goal was to include Japan into the Catholic empire. They sought power.

They supported a Japanese warlord in a war to attack Osaka Castle where there was another warlord who liked Protestants. And he was furious by the attack. He subdued the attack, destroyed the force, and banned all forms of Christianity. Not only that, he posed an embargo even on Japanese to leave country. Japan rolled in on itself. While others were fighting with each other and creating empire for themselves, Japan had no war for 250 years. Japan didn’t suffer the epidemics outside. And culture! A separate culture evolved which is evident even now in their anime, food, speech, theater, etc.

In the beginning period of that embargo, the story of Silence starts.

No-spoiler discussion

Father Ferreira came to Japan from Portugal. Many Japanese was converted by him into Catholics. Ferreira risked his life and became inspiration for many other priests. But now there is a news that he apostatized, abandoned Christianity, and now living as a Japanese. When the news came, two young priests, Rodriguez and Garupe, couldn’t believe it. They thought it was a rumor an set out to Japan to find Father Ferreira.

We saw this much in the first 10 minutes. I understood at least this much that it is not a rescue film. The film is a serious one, but I can’t hold myself from telling a joke at this point. There is a meme about Liam Neeson where it says that he was Aslan in Narnia, Zeus in Clash of Titans, Jedi master in Star Wars, and he trained Batman. How dare you to kidnap his daughter (in Taken)? It is evident that he doesn’t need rescuing even in this film!

But I understood another serious thing too. There will be no winners in this film. Religion is a sensitive business; here, everyone will try to justify their action by their own beliefs. I knew that this film will focus those beliefs, but will shed light on harsh reality too. In the first 17/18 minute, there was a scene where those two priests found a hidden Christian village. They were given food and they started eating without saying their prayers. But all the other Japanese Christians waited for praying before they could eat. I think, this was the first and easiest conflict. I knew that this will be intensified.

The movie was so calm, there was no haste, no extra excitement. There was acting though. Especially, Andrew Garfield’s. To me, this is one of the two best performances by him, the other being Never Let Me Go.  If my memory serves me right, then there was only one scene with background music, other scenes didn’t even have that much. The film is called Silence, and silence had a major role to play. Silence has many forms, many shapes, many reasons. Silence that is caused by serenity is calm, but the ones caused by helplessness has a storm inside it.

The film didn’t do well in box office. Even though it has 85% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes critics, general audience probably found two and a half hours to be too long and too slow. But if you consider the dichotomy faced by the characters and how they are dissecting themselves, then you will realize that the film has a pace just like life itself. It has a documentary style screenplay and a background narration to complement that pace. And Scorsese doesn’t think about box office when he makes these films. The two other of this trilogy didn’t do well either. But still, he made it, he had to. I wonder, had it been a young and unknown filmmaker, what kind of trouble he had to go through! Probably it was easier because it was Scorsese. He has balls! He released it in the heart of Catholic Church, in the city of Rome. I wonder, if this film was made in Bangladesh and on Islam, then we would have had a riot on our hands.

I confess, there were moments when I thought this film could have been shorter. But since I finished it, whenever I think of it, I feel a burning sensation in my eyes and my heart becomes empty. I am grateful to the writer, director, actors and everyone who helped made the film. Andrew Garfield and Martin Scorsese deserves special mention.

Liam Neeson once told about Martin in an interview, “He’s legendary — so as a performer you have to get over that. I had to get over that… He requires absolute silence on set, like everybody has to stop work when he’s giving a direction or explaining a scene. I mean everybody — the guy that’s painting 400 yards away has to stop. If he hears one tiny sound, it’s shattered for him so he commands that respect. He commands that silence and especially for this film it was necessary.”

There was a scene in the film where Father Rodriguez’s religious mind was challenged with the actual reality, when he had to redefine good or bad, when he had to justify what his belief has brought in reality. While watching the scene, I went into sort of trance state myself. His helplessness was conveyed into my mind as well. I am not religious at all, but his religiosity touched me. What did he really decide, I will discuss that in the next section, but you can guess that it was for the betterment of greater welfare.

Discussion with spoiler

Watched it or not, you must have guessed that Rodriguez meets Father Ferreira, at last. Ferreira appears in Japanese costume, calm and serene. He began studying and contributing in a library a year ago. He has a Japanese wife and kids. And the rumor is true as well, he abandoned Christianity. Even then, when he faced Rodriguez, his face was sullen with dilemma and apology. he gave up religion when he understood that his version of religion has brought only misery in this land. When Rodriguez understood the same after much toil, he gave up religion as well. But none of these two could reconcile this in their heart. They remained catholic, but understood that Catholicism is not the solution for Japan.

When Father Ferreira was saying that Christianity will never take root because Japan is a swamp or that the Japanese have made a different version to believe, that brings me a sort of deep realization. Didn’t the Muslims in the Indian subcontinent do the same? When Islam came in this lands, it was already altered to Sufism, a softer and less aggressive version that was originated in Arab. If it didn’t change into a pacific one, people here wouldn’t gave taken Islam into their heart on a mass scale. In these era of global communication, when people in Bangladesh are seeing what real Islam looks like, they can’t agree to it with their conscious mind. Muslims here end up saying that “It (Arabic original Islam) is not real Islam”. Very few, who has embraced the fighting nature of Arabic Islam, are causing terror. The conflict history has experienced in Japan, is now here in Bangladesh in 2017.

We need to decide as those two fathers have decided – religion or reality? Both priests have died with religion in their heart, but to continue peace, they actively worked to stop all Christian materials from entering into Japan. They became silent, because they knew God remains silent to prayers; they knew that praying doesn’t bring peace. So, they abandoned God and devoted their life for people.



  1. I enjoyed the review. The best thing is that when I watched the movie, I didn’t understand well. Now I have understood fully and better. Thanks for the review.

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