Two quick points on why Martin Scorsese’s evangelical fervour
must be debated. One, for a benign believer with a disinclination for proselytising
or religious conversion, the very premise of converting another man to your
faith is distasteful. Also, the 1600s were barbaric days and it’s patently
unfair to use the savage torture of those days to appeal to today’s refined
sensitivities. Therefore, when the filmmaker seeks empathy for the Christian
Japanese and their priests who were forced with inhuman cruelty to step on
Jesus’ face and declare themselves apostates, the prime reaction is, why were
you forcing your religion in someone else’s country in the first place?
There’s a dialogue-debate between the Japanese
Inquisitor and fanatically religious Portuguese padre Rodrigues which
reinforces the thought that Christians believed their God was superior to all
others and thus, it was their holy duty to convert the whole world. Now that’s
a belief which won’t find too many takers in a millennium that’s far more
inclusive than it was in the 1600s.
Two young priests, Rodrigues and Garupe, set out to
Japan to find their missing mentor Father Ferreira. It was rumoured that he had
turned apostate, given up his God, and settled down with a Japanese wife. Unable
to accept that as the gospel truth, the two padres surreptitiously enter the
land of the Rising Sun.
What they find are Japanese converts who have to
practice their new faith in secrecy as they’re hounded by the Emperor’s
enforcers. But the real targets are the padres who must abandon their God and
their mission to save others from the cruelty.
Martin Scorsese takes his own time, 2hrs 41 minutes,
to unfold his tale of religious persecution, luxuriating in the inhumanity of
the Japanese who forcefully thwart all attempts to wean them away from Buddhism
to embrace Christianity.
Sprinkling water from hot springs on open flesh,
wrapping Christian girls in dry hay and drowning them or dangling men upside
down in pits, Scorsese shows it all. It seems to particularly disturb him that
the Japanese burnt the dead and didn’t give them a Christian burial.
Scorsese redeems the apostates with a last shot of the
padre’s cremation that reveals what his faith really was. He also has a tribute
at the end which reads: ‘To Christian Japanese and their pastors’ which sums up
the religiosity that powers this film.
Andrew Garfield as Padre Rodrigues and Liam Neeson as
Father Ferreira blend in with the times as they go through their roles with
required fervour, frown and inner frustration.
Technically, the film is beautiful. The locations have tranquil beauty
even if the proceedings are harsh. Both caught with efficiency by DOP Rodrigo
For an indulgent film that’s out of sync with contemporary
thought but would appeal to the zealously religious, Silence gets a 3* rating.
Bharathi S Pradhan
Senior Journalist & Author