Silence ★★★★★

"Go on, then, Rodrigues, pray. But pray with your eyes open."

I remember reading a review of this when it came out that dismissively compared it to Shinoda's original adaptation, arguing that Scorsese's emphasis on Endo's rumination on faith came at the expense of the novel's critiques of colonialism. It struck me as a blinkered, surface-level reading of the film then; now, it seems downright oblivious. Scorsese has worked with strong scripts for so much of his career, but he communicates visually, one of the few filmmakers who can shoot impressionistically and expressionistically with equal skill. It is hard to ignore how both Rodrigues and especially Garupe recoil at every Japanese person who approaches them, instinctively afraid even though nearly all who come (at first, at least) do so to give confession and hear the word of God. Later in the film, Tadanobu Asano's interpreter introduces himself by noting that the Japanese seem to learn the priests' language far better than the visitors do theirs, mentioning one priest in particular who despised everything about Japan, adding extra, tacit meaning to his work to make the Japanese more like Europeans.

More broadly, the priests' mission is in and of itself reflects upon the logic of Christian outreach, with both Rodrigues and Garupe clearly taking on the task of saving their apostatized mentor and spread the Word to the Japanese precisely because of the glory it will bring them, whether in this life or the next. When Rodrigues sees the suffering of the Japanese Christians, he is inspired, not horrified, and one can see the wild glimmer in his eyes at the prospect of immortality through martyrdom.

Rodrigues does not see the politics in his mission, but the Japanese authorities sure do, and later interactions with both the interpreter and Inoue (a masterfully officious, pleasantly condescending Issey Ogata), both of whom note the potential for this kind of morality, with its death cult applications when taken as seriously (and literally) as the devout converts in Japan do, to completely destroy society. Endo's book notes the weapons brought by the Portuguese along with the Bible; Scorsese's film intrinsically highlights that the Word is itself a weapon of revolution and conquest.

The officials also correctly perceive the hubris in the supposed selflessness of Christianity, regularly pointing out that the farce of refusing to simply apostatize condemns Christians to death, a sacrifice that the priests are willing to make not to serve God but avoid their own shame. When the interpreter mentions Ferreira becoming famous in Japan after renouncing God, he callously notes that he thinks that's why the priest came to Japan in the first place.

Scorsese's characters are all bound by codes of behavior upheld by violence and hypocrisy; here it is the Church itself that becomes the foundational text of irreconcilable behavior. Even as Rodrigues becomes disgusted with the killing and torture, he urges others to apostatize but cannot do it himself, the implication being that he cannot bear to see others' suffering but is also subconsciously willing to see them damned but not himself, or at least to have the vanity to believe that he can provide absolution for them but that none are qualified to give the same to him.

Aesthetically, this is, of course, a marvel, with Scorsese diving into his encyclopedic film knowledge to incorporate the more sedate, natural rhythms of Japanese art, particularly the negative-space concept of ma, to let philosophical questions, existential tension, and even just moments of natural beauty breathe. Scenes of horror are filmed with a grim lack of excitement, emphasizing the manner in which omnipresent brutality becomes commonplace, if always hard to stomach. And that climactic moment of apostasy is, ironically, one of the great depictions of faith, a transcendent moment of true grace that upholds faith by scuttling its earthly, manmade limitations.

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