In Martin Scorsese's passion play, Scorsese takes Shūsaku Endō's 1966 novel of the same name and adapts it into a sweeping story that takes place circa 1633 in feudal Japan. Here, two priests seek out their former mentor, having heard that he has committed apostasy, that is, that he has abandoned his faith while ministering to Japanese villagers. Unbelieving that he could have given up his beliefs, the two find that existing in faith in Japan is nothing like they had imagined.
Our viewpoint is through the lens of Andrew Garfield's Sebastião Rodrigues, one of Cristóvão Ferreira's (Liam Neeson) mentees, as he travels from local village on a path that leads him to torture and persecution in Nagasaki under the watchful eye of the governor (Issey Ogata). Garfield's depiction of Rodrigues, based on a real Jesuit priest who served in Japan, is exquisite and powerful; his exploration of faith and doubt speaks to the power of what these men encountered in their attempt to share their faith. Full disclosure: this is not for the faint of heart to watch or consider.
In many ways, the film shares a view of what it might be for current Christians in 'closed' countries to wrestle with faith, doubt, persecution, and evil. What choices are they forced to make when their feet are held to more than the proverbial fire? Is apostasy the public renunciation of faith or the abandoning of one's faith altogether? Can one doubt and have faith, or is the mere suggestion that God might not care actually the denial of faith altogether?
Rodrigues powerfully hears God speak to him at times throughout the movie, and the direction of the film allows for us to understand 'silence' in terms of not hearing God and not feeling supported by the faith community. But the opposite of silence is more than noise: it's the reminder that God is moving, that God still speaks, and that when we need God, God shows us who He is.
Silence will challenge you, and make us consider how we are faithfully following. Is our comfortable life enough? Or is God calling us to do more, to refuse to be silent?