After showing The Silence Of The Lambs, a great film which got massive Oscar recognition, I figured if there was ever a time to show Silence, Martin Scorsese‘s 2016 passion work that was completely ignored by the Academy, this would be it.  So like Fathers Rodrigues and Garupe, I took the opportunity (knowing that my risks – and my audience – would be much smaller than theirs).

Not only did he escape from that gas, but Jar-Jar was nowhere to be seen!

The film opens in 1633 Japan, during an era when the shogunate emperor has outlawed Christianity, a religion formerly burgeoning due to Catholic missionary priests, due to the threat it poses to Japanese national interests.  Ferreira, a Portuguese priest, is made to watch fellow Christians tortured at a hot spring for their faith, having boiling water sprinkled over them slowly to prolong the pain.

I did not think this room would reverberate like that!

We then jump forward a few years to a church in Macao where two young priests, Rodrigues (James Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) are informed of rumors that in the midst of the Japanese crackdown on Christianity, Father Ferreira has apostatized.  They refuse to believe these rumors and insist upon being sent to Japan to seek the truth about what happened to Ferreira, who had mentored Rodrigues.  They are told of the only Japanese man currently in Macao – Kichijiro, a drunkard who speaks Portuguese (it’s a giveaway!) but insists he is not a Christian.  Kichijiro is torn between avoiding the land of his birth and an opportunity to return, but eventually decides to be their guide in a country now mortally hostile to their faith.

<aussie> You call that a crucifix?

The priests make landing at the village of Tomogi, where the villagers have been trying to sustain a largely totemistic version of Christianity in the long absence of any church leadership.  Rodrigues and Garupe are welcomed by the village but must be hidden away by day lest their presence be found by the authorities.

Now, THAT’S a crucifix! </aussie>

Nonetheless, before too long the authorities suspect that something is up, and come to the village accusing the residents of secretly being Christians despite their insistence upon being good Buddhists.  Four of the villagers (including the two most involved in Christian leadership and the “outsider” Kichijiro) are forced to trample on the fumi-e, an image of Jesus, in order to prove their cases.  Having been enjoined by Rodrigues (to the horror of Garupe) that they should indeed trample if asked, they do.  However, the inquisitor has another test planned as well, and requests in addition that the spit upon on a crucifix, which all refuse except Kichijiro.

After their first abortive attempts, the Japanese would not master the concept of surfing for three more centuries

Kichijiro is allowed to leave, but the other three are punished for their faith – strapped to crosses that are set in the ocean to be battered by the tide for days until they die.  After this, the priests decide that their presence is a clear danger to the villagers and split up and leave, with Garupe heading for Hirado island and Rodrigues going to Gotō Island, Kichijiro’s home where he has visited once before and ministered to the villagers.  However, Rodrigues finds that Gotō has been ravaged, presumably by the inquisitors.

The Mirror of Galadricon

Succumbing to hunger and thirst on the desolated island, Rodrigues finally encounters none other than Kichijiro, who returned after his apostasy in Tomogi.  This in fact wasn’t his first apostasy – he originally had been the only member of his family to escape death by trampling the fumi-e before he had fled to Macao.  And it wouldn’t be his last – for he leads Rodrigues to a stream where immediately after the priest sees himself reflected as the Christ in the still water he is betrayed by Kichijiro to the inquisitors for 300 pieces of silver.

Too much starch in the shoulders?  I thought maybe.

Rodrigues finds himself in the power of the infamous Governor Inoue, who is particularly zealous about ridding Japan of Christianity under the theory that while Christianity might be appropriate for Europe that it is infertile in the Japanese ground.  More than anything Inoue wants Rodrigues to apostatize – because a fallen priest is worth legions of fallen followers.  However, Inoue notably says that he will not be repeating his early mistakes of torturing the priests, for he has learned that they welcome the martyrdom.  Instead, his tactic is to torture the followers.  “The price for your glory is their suffering!” he says.

Two Hail Marys, three Our Fathers, and one trampling of the fumi-e

Rodrigues is brought to an outdoor prison in Nagasaki where he is forced to watch the torture of Japanese Christian prisoners, including the violent murder of one of them.  He is also dogged by the once-again repentant – and once again apostate – Kichijiro, who tramples the fumi-e yet again to escape captivity.

What I have is a particular set of…oh, you finish it.  I’m bitter.

Finally, Rodrigues is brought to meet none other than Ferreira, who has indeed apostatized and has taken a Japanese wife and a Japanese name as he works in the employ of the government, while of course being paraded about publicly as an apostate priest.  Rodrigues is shocked and argues with Ferreira, who insists that Christianity cannot take seed in Japan and encourages Rodrigues to follow him in apostasy.

Dennis!  There’s some fine filth over here!

Sure enough, that night Rodrigues hears the suffering of tortured prisoners, whom he entreats to apostatize in order to escape their pains, but Ferriera informs him that they have apostatized, but their torture will not end until Rodrigues does.  And as Rodrigues is led to the fumi-e the film goes completely silent for an uncomfortable time until the voice of God (finally, for the first time ever) speaks to Rodrigues and comfortingly gives him permission to trample.  Rodrigues tramples.

From this point, the film largely turns to the recollections of a Dutch trader who was given access to Nagasaki (the Dutch being the only Europeans permitted on Japanese soil in that time).  He recounts what he knows of Rodrigues’ fate.  Like Ferreira he was given a Japanese wife and family and name, and was made to work as a sort of customs agent, inspecting incoming items for any hidden Christian symbolism.  The elder Ferreira died soon thereafter, but Rodrigues lived decades, periodically repeating the trampling and being given as a servant none other than Kichijiro (who we see at last carted away for wearing a locket containing a hidden cross).  Finally when Rodrigues died, he was cremated in a traditional Buddhist funeral.  The only person allowed to approach his body was his wife, who secretly planted something on him.  When, in the film’s final frames the camera zoomed inside the burning casket, we find that in his hand he holds the tiny, crude wooden cross first given to him by the villagers in Tomogi.  The end.

Silence is a slow, brutal film, and like Scorsese’s Last Temptation, is a thoughtful nearly three-hour exercise in the exploration of faith.  Like Last Temptation, which proposes that Judas was an unwilling traitor, Silence offers a somewhat unorthodox view of Judas in the character of Kichijiro – the weak in conviction who is continually betraying his faith under pressures from the world and continually repenting of it.  Interestingly, the film offers strong suggestions that not only Rodrigues but also Ferreira are insincere in their apostasy – but this matters little to the Japanese government so long as the priests’ outward appearance serves their purposes.  It’s a supremely reflective movie, and perfectly worthy of being ranked among Scorsese’s masterworks.