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Silence

Director Martin Scorcese
Paramount Pictures
161 minutes

A couple of decades ago I stumbled on the novel Silence by Shusako Endo, and reading it again this year I was struck by how fresh and timeless Endo’s writing continues to be. It’s easy to see why Martin Scorcese was attracted to this compelling story of faith under fire set in the context of 16th Century Japan, a culture that appears to be almost completely impervious to the gospel.

Does the film manage to capture the tension that is at the heart of Japanese cultural engagement with the outside world? Yes; it does so brilliantly, along with the tension within the main characters as they wrestle with the cost of faithfulness to the gospel.  

The three priests Rodrigues and Garrpe and Ferreira, and the mysteriously ambiguous Japanese figure Kichijiro, all respond to the challenge in contrasting ways.

The film is long and unfolds its overtly spiritual themes slowly; at times, I found it strange that I was in a cinema watching a film on general release. The depiction of torture is very graphic; what is left to the imagination in reading Endo’s novel is laid devastatingly bare in the cinema!

I guess it is obvious why Christians would want to watch this film. Themes of mission in a hostile environment, persecution, and the need for sensitivity in communicating the gospel in a different culture, are all poignantly relevant to the 21st century Church. 

Maybe the most compelling theme is the struggle Christians have when praying before, what seems to be, a wall of silence. Another interesting observation in the film is how a culture might read Christianity through its own cultural lenses, adopting a sentimental mix of old and new spiritual ideas.

For some the many harrowing scenes of torture in this film will be just too much to bear. If the viewer makes it to the end, there are moments of hope that break through. Maybe it is the darkest night that allows us to see the brightest stars.

OTHER RESOURCES

The back story to the novel is beautifully explored by the Japanese American artist Makoto Fujimura in his book Silence and Beauty.

Shusako Endo – Silence (with an illuminating forward by Martin Scorcese) Picador 288 pages £8.99 ISBN 978-1447299851

Makoto Fujimura – Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering IVP 263 pages £19.99 ISBN 978-0830844593

As always the good folk at Damaris have done a great job in providing study materials for reflection and use in evangelism.

John Woods (Pastor at Lancing Tabernacle in West Sussex)

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