I went in to Martin Scorsese’s latest film Silence, based on the novel by Shūsaku Endō, looking for a three hour theological discourse and left disappointed. And not because it was only two hours and forty minutes long.
Silence follows two Portuguese Jesuits on a journey to Japan to find their mentor who, rumor has it, is now an apostate. What follows is a prolonged culture war between Japanese authorities who are sick of Western missionaries proselytizing useless beliefs to their people and the aforementioned Jesuits who believe they are spreading the truth.
Silence is certainly a theological discourse, but it’s a discourse that takes the shape of extravagant torture and ultimately leaves both sides feeling ridiculous. By the end of the film I was annoyed with the Japanese inquisitors and the Portuguese mercenaries alike for the severity of actions that feel symbolic at best.
But it wasn’t the shape of the discourse that disappointed me so much as it’s depth.
Silence is an exploration of faith that never actually explores faith itself. We’re privy to arguments between faiths, but never to an exploration of faith. We’re privy to an exploration of Christianity in an inhospitable country, but never to faith in an inhospitable world.
The discourse at the center of Silence seems to take faith and belief as a given and thus any epiphanies it arrives at feel hollow. Without an examination of the very basis of belief and faith, the symbolic act of apostatizing so central to the film carries only as much wait as you yourself can give it. The film presents its characters with a choice between two ideologies but because it never questions why they have to choose in the first place, investing in the decision can prove difficult.
Silence is a solid movie, but for those like myself looking for more of an existential term paper it will likely fall short.