IF ONLY: Movie Review of Silence by Howard Casner

For questions: hcasner@aol.com

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rev-1Silence, the new film written by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese, who also directed, is adapted from a 1966 Japanese novel by Shusako Endo. The basic premise revolves around two Portuguese priests, Fathers Rodrigues and Garrpe, who go to Japan to find out whether an earlier missionary, Father Ferreira, had buckled under the persecution of the government there, a government that had outlawed Christianity, and renounced his faith.

When the two fathers reach Japan, they see a cruel world in which the slightest hint of Christianity leads to savage torture. They do what they can for the underground faith while searching for Ferreira, but are eventually caught and tortured themselves.

I have to be honest. I don’t really know how I’m supposed to react to what I see on the screen. Scorsese is definitely sincere in trying to explore the meaning of faith. But for me, I think this is quite possibly the worst film made in some time by a great filmmaker.


rev-2I think we are supposed to pity the devout and feel horror at the way they are treated. And I do. The problem is that I feel pity and horror at anyone persecuted for their religious beliefs. Anyone.


So in watching the torture perpetrated on the two priests, for some reason I don’t quite feel the anger at the persecutors as Scorsese might want me to.


After all, this is the Catholic Church of the 17th we’re talking about, the predominant Christian creed of the time. This is the organization that destroyed the Central American and Mexican indigenous cultures, killing many and making slaves of others, while Spaniards and Portuguese savaged the land for gold; this is the religion that tortured who knows how many people under the Inquisition, forcing Jews to convert or face exile or death; this is the faith that helped instigate and back the Crusades. And that’s only some of their crimes.


So when the two fathers are viciously tortured, I suspect I’m supposed to think, how awful. But if truth be told, all I could think is, yeah, karma’s a bitch, ain’t it? Now you get a small taste of what you’ve been doing to others for ages.


There is a key scene when the Inquisitor is talking to Rodrigues and tells him that four countries, The Netherlands, England, Spain and Portugal, are all trying to get their claws into Japan so they can control the country. Rodrigues suggests that the Inquisitor should try a fifth possibility, Christianity. When the Inquisitor rejects this idea as being just as bad, Rodrigues tells him that he doesn’t understand Christianity.


My thought was that, no, the Inquisitor understands Christianity very, very well. It’s Rodrigues who doesn’t understand his own faith. Rodrigues acts as if his Catholicism is just a benign system of beliefs. But, like all religions or codified systems of belief, it is anything but. And the Inquisitor fully appreciates that if he lets Christianity in, that will just enable these other countries to come in and basically take over.


This doesn’t really excuse the horrifying methods Japan used to suppress Catholic converts. But it doesn’t make me want to hope that Rodrigues will achieve a goal of letting Christianity into the country.


For me, Scorsese has created a film of meaning that fails because he has placed the story in a world without the full context of what that meaning, well… really and truly means.


rev-3With Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as Rodrigues and Garrpe. Their acting is a bit wobbly, though more so their accents (Gael Garcia Bernal and Benicio Del Toro were originally cast). In the end, Driver comes off a bit better with his El Greco looks. Liam Neeson makes no impression at all as Father Ferreira.


Also with Issei Ogata as the Inquisitor.


The marvelous cinematography is by Rodrigo Prieto.

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