CREDIT: COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT
Considered to be one of the 20th century's finest novels, Silence, is the story of two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan during the kakure kirishitan period to investigate the whereabouts of their previous mentor. Acclaimed director, Martin Scorsese adapted the novel to film in 2016.
It was only a few days ago that I stumbled upon Shusaku Endo’s novel, Silence, in a nearby store and recalled that director, Martin Scorsese, the mind behind Taxi Driver and Goodfellas, had recently released a film of the same name. I thought to myself that this has got to be one ripper of a read if Scorsese had adapted it to film. So I bought the book, nestled onto the couch and began reading. And let me tell you, I couldn't put the book down, for this was a truthfully powerful and breathtakingly written piece of work.
The story follows Portuguese Jesuit priests, Rodrigues and Garupe, who travel to Japan to investigate the truth about their former mentor, Father Ferrieira, rumoured to have apostatised and living as a Japanese citizen. The film is set during the 17th Century where Christians were persecuted, tortured and forced to renounce their faith. This story was touching. Each sentence Endo writes poetically transcends you to this broken period, as though we are living it clearly. We connect with the character of Rodrigues becoming a part of him, just as he is closely bound to his faith. Will he apostatise to save innocent lives or will his pride as a respected Priest stop him from doing so?
There are moments within the book which reflect our own lives today, particularly the theme of death. Although death is constantly occurring throughout the novel, it is the death of an oppressed peasant, killed before the eyes of the priest, which stands out. This peasant, like many others, stayed true to his faith and did not apostatise but his death was no martydom that Rodrigues had envisioned for God’s followers. Instead a quick strike with a samurai sword and the man falls to the ground lifeless. The world continued on as it was. The hum of cicada’s and insects didn't even stop to reflect upon the evil that had just occurred. Life went on. And yet it is Rodrigues who stops to ask why? An innocent life perishes and nobody blinks an eye. Will our own fates be the same?
The representation of Christ has often been described as the saviour of the world, curing the sick, and bringing peace to all however, the novel depicts Christ in a way that is often not expressed within reality. The Lord is not the one to solve the problems which we face in this unjust world, but instead he is someone who will anchor himself alongside us, to feel our pain, comfort our suffering, and hear our prayers. Not standing above us but simply beside us throughout life’s journey. Rodrigues finally understands this towards the end of the novel when he too decides to apostatise in order to save the lives of Japanese Christians. With much contempt the honourable Rodrigues finds it difficult to place his bare, dirty foot upon the fumie, but just like that the Lord whispers “it is to be trampled on by you that I am here,” thus Rodrigues finding resoluteness to do so.
Finishing the book I was skeptical about watching the film. I didn't want to see such a beautiful story portrayed poorly on screen. But knowing Scorsese was behind the film I was reassured. After all, Silence had been his passion project for the past 20 years - his magnum opus. As the story focuses mainly on Rodrigues’ (played by Andrew Garfield) I was curious to see how his emotional turmoil and reconciliation with his faith and that of Ferriera (the apostatised priest played by Liam Neeson) would be represented. Not being a huge fan of Garfield from his Spiderman days I was pleasantly surprised with his performance as the priest. His soft, delicate nature felt honest, homely, creating a man of wisdom and knowledge. Allowing me too, just like the book, develop a warm connection with this character, again feeling his torment and upheaval. Even in his darkest hours his tortured soul was bound with strength, just as Endo writes, “every weakness contains within itself a strength.”
The cinematography is phenomenal. Stunning serene visuals, from dense rainforest greens to cold ocean blues. The humidity and sweat shown within the Japanese villages reinforces the harshness the peasants had to endure. This warm climate couldn't be escaped by anyone, overbearing and relentless, much like the feudal taxes at the time. Torture and death are both present on land and at sea. Faithful Christians would be bound onto makeshift crosses in deep rocky waters, waves crashing onto their emancipated bodies. Salty water sprinkling their wounds, rubbing like sand paper.
Although reading mixed reviews about the film I believe Scorsese has done an incredible job, ultimately staying faithful to Endo’s text. I highly recommend reading the novel before seeing the film, an enlightening take on religion and what it means to follow Christ.