I am drawn to movies about other cultures. When my friend Philip posted the preview about this movie it instantly grabbed my attention. I have enjoyed much of the entertainment industry that has come out of Japan – movies, animation, video games. Here was a movie about missionaries to Japan, I couldn’t pass up seeing it in theatres despite only an evening showing available in my area.
Note: To those reading my reviews for the first time, my Overall and Summary sections are spoiler free. There is a break with a picture, after that spoilers are fair game.
Rated: Rated R for some disturbing violent content
Released: December 2016
Besides the movie being about missionaries to Japan, the thing that caught my attention the most was its leading actors. Andrew Garfield has gotten a lot of attention lately for his performance in Hacksaw Ridge. I was eager to see a film featuring him and Liam Neeson together. The movie is set in Japan during the 1600’s. A turning point in Japan’s history where an open door to western civilization was beginning to close. Silence is based on a 1966 novel with the same name. Though both the novel and the movie have accounts of real people, the majority of its tale is fiction. I was not aware of this fact until after watching the movie. After watching it, I did some research on the missionaries and the movie to learn more about the events it was based on. As I left the movie I overheard a grandfather ask his grandson, “What did you think?” His reply was, “It was…interesting.” I thought, “Huh, that’s about how I feel.” I just felt odd, a mixture of emotions that were hard to place. After looking up its reviews, I am rather surprised how high it was rated.
I wasn’t expecting so much dialogue, especially in the narrative. I often found myself surprised by the sudden voice as if I was watching a documentary. This was my first time hearing Andrew Garfield in this way. His voice acting did not carry much weight for me compared to Liam Neeson, voice actor of Asland. There are two times when a new voice from an unknown character suddenly speaks, only to later learn the source. Throughout the movie there were additional things that bothered me. Andrew Garfield’s character, Rodrigues, usually has a clean face. For a missionary in a remote setting it is pretty odd to have a clean face. Even his hair was nicely kept and looked like he had just taken a shower. Yet his hands, as well as nearly every other character looked as rugged as they should be. I could also tell it was not filmed in Japan. The scenery felt off from the very beginning. For someone like me that appreciates Japan and its culture, this took away from the setting. I discovered it was entirely filmed in Taiwan. One last detail that was odd, was the subtitles. I am thankful for my avid anime watching, as I knew enough Japanese to figure out what was being said. I found it really odd that they translated some scenes and not others. At times, they would even translate only part of the scene. Perhaps this was done to help us feel like the missionaries struggling to learn the culture, but I would wager the average movie watcher wouldn’t grasp it that way.
We see two eager men, Rodrigues & Garupe, wanting to go to Japan to find their mentor, played by Liam Neeson. According to the last word they received, Ferreira has renounced the Christian faith, which they cannot believe. Despite the increase of persecution in Japan, the two men do not waiver, and believe God has put this call in their hearts. The men are Catholic, as were many missionaries; one of the things I enjoyed watching about the film. It reminded me, a Protestant, that there were many Catholics as well who were sold out for the Lord, willing to go at the cost of their own lives to spread the gospel. My favorite character in the movie was Rodrigues. He has such a passion for the cause, and a heart for the people. We see him and Garupe disputing over minor things and he even encourages the locals that he is not like the other Padres (Fathers). Most missionaries have answered a call with well meaning intention, but some have done more harm then good. The damage that has been done is pointed out by some of the locals carrying out the persecutions. We see Rodrigues realizing those mistakes, and genuinely wanting the people to know the universal truth he has embraced. I especially enjoyed the conversation about universal truth as he challenges the Japanese inquisitors. The one thing I must give credit for is the mental battle Rodrigues goes through. Though I am a missionary, I have not gone into a setting where fellow Christians were being persecuted. The mental battle for the Padres is tough one that goes through various stages. His partner, Garupe, faces mental trials as well. The movie focuses more on Rodrigues as the main character.
There is little to no action. This is a historical drama. That said, there are multiple depictions of torture and the various persecutions Christians faced. Going into it with an R rating I was expecting a level above End of the Spear and maybe somewhere close to The Passion of the Christ. But it never felt gruesome, and I was surprised it got an R rating. There is a beheading scene, but they cut away from the actual slice. You see the head roll towards Rodrigues and the headless body is dragged into a hole leaving a trail of blood. This scene, and the other persecutions he witnessed are later replayed in his mind. People are hung on wooden crosses at a beach, where they are beaten by the waves from the high tide and eventually drawn or die of hunger/starvation. The movie starts off with a similar scene of wooden crosses at a hot springs, where people have boiling water dripped over their bodies. Near the end of the movie we see another technique, the pits. People are tied up and hung upside down for hours. A small cut is made on their neck so their blood slowly drips down their head and onto the pits floor. This method was used at night to utilize the darkness as well.
Unlike the End of the Spear, this movie did not compel me. However, it is not that type of movie. The movie is thought provoking and very real. We witness Rodrigues begin to lose the mental battle and he seems to eventually give up. The movie ends with shreds of hope, but leaves you feeling defeated. Japan once again closes its doors to western civilization and we are left to wonder if the church remained alive during that time or not. It wasn’t until about 200 years later that they once again opened their doors beyond trade with the Dutch. One conviction of the Padres that bothered me was the concept of, “if we die, the church will die with us.” One of the mistakes missionaries have made in the past, was not properly raising up local leadership. We are called to make disciples, and to empower the locals to become the leaders in the church. Too many missionaries made the locals reliant on themselves and/or the foreign nation. This is the case in the movie as well. Though Rodriguez addressed some of the issues, this one remained.
The movie does a good job of making you wonder what your choice would be if ever faced with persecution. And I’m referring to persecution beyond bullying in any form some of us have experienced. You begin to wonder what you would do in captivity, awaiting torture. Would you step on a plate or spit on a cross to deny your faith? Would it really be only a formality as your captors coax you into denial? Would you deny your faith to live another day, when you can ask for forgiveness and keep the church alive? Would you recant your faith to save the lives of your brethren? Is hiding from persecution the same as running away? Is it all worth it?
If you’ve seen the film I would love to know your thoughts on the movie and if you wrestled with any of these questions as I have after watching the film.
After Credits Scene – None
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