Silence: Read the Book

Last night we saw Silence, Martin Scorsese’s new film adaptation of the novel by that name written by Shinsaku Endo, a film I have been anxious to see since I read the book two years ago.  (My post about the book is here.)

Given my reaction to the book and what I have read of the experience of the actors in making it (see, e.g., here), I really wanted to love the film, but I didn’t.

I am glad the film was made.  There are few enough films that seriously explore questions of faith and of what it means to live a life devoted to God (in Christian terms, to Christ).  So I am happy to see an addition to that genre and had been anxious to see what Scorsese would do with it, as it seemed like such a labor of love for him.

It is not surprising to me that the film is not doing well in the box office.  There is the initial limiting issue that I’m not sure who, beyond those  (like me) who want to see it because they read the book and those who are interested in efforts to Christianize Asia or in evangelization more generally, will be drawn to choose this over some other movie.  But the problem for many moviegoers is that there is a lot of talk and very little action – and the action that is in the film is very repetitive (as in, how many different ways can you torture someone).

But, while I don’t have a problem with movies with a lot of talk (I actually tend to quite like them), this one did not move me as I had expected it would.  Perhaps part of it was Andrew Garfield in the role of protagonist, who I did not find compelling.  (I found myself wondering if I would have found the film more moving had the roles of the two Jesuits who set off for Japan been reversed and Adam Driver had played the main role.)  Perhaps it is that the movie is too long, which may have contributed to the fact that it is not uniformly engaging.

I suspect it is more that there is only so much of a character’s internal monologue (or third person novel narrator account of that) that can be captured in a film through narrated letters and allowing the audience to hear a character’s thoughts. That is true primarily of Garfield’s character Rodrigues, but is also true to a lesser extent of the priest Ferreira (played by Liam Neeson).  That makes the film a less than fully effective way to capture the internal conflict of either character.

It is true that the film succeeds in raising for consideration that same questions the book does, first and foremost: What does it mean to serve Christ? (Early on we hear Ignatius’ colloquy questions from Week One of his Spiritual Exercises: What have I done for Christ, What am I doing for Christ, What will I do for Christ?  And there is no question the desire to serve Christ is what motivates Rodrigues.)  And what does it mean to apostatize?  But I don’t think it raises those questions as well or effectively as the book does.

I think Endo’s work is one deserving of attention, but my bottom line is: If you really want to seriously reflect on the questions Silence raises, read the book if you have not done so, rather than going to see the movie.

And I don’t mean to dissuade folks who have read the book from seeing the film. My sense is that there have been mixed reactions to it and I would love to hear from folks who liked it more than I did.

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