“The weight of your silence is terrible,” Rodrigues whispers to God, and yet it’s also strangely wonderful to behold and see Rodrigues (played by Andrew Garfield) grapple with the unseeming silence of God in the newly released film ‘Silence.’ For when God does speak, portrayed by a kind voice (albeit American) through the words of Jesus the breaking of the stillness is profoundly powerful and deeply moving. While watching the film was part of my module I teach as part of our foundation degree with The Light Project, I’m so pleased I got to see the film and feel enriched by the experience.
Let me explain- Just as the voice of God feels powerful the film so elegantly allows the observer to participate in the silence of God. The guardian reported it as a weight that feels real and tangible. Sitting in the cinema I experienced this. This was amplified by the sparse music score and the ‘white noise’ of crickets and wind which occasionally stopped in the film giving an eerie feeling of stillness like the sound had somehow failed.
Yet the silence refered to in the title and throughout the film isn’t just about the absence of God or sparsness with the music. Yes, God appears to be distant in the midst of torture and pain of Christians in the film but watching it I couldn’t get away from the way the ‘silencing of the gospel’ was portrayed in subtle and sinister ways through the culture it seemed to embed. I found this a great challenge to our western materialistic culture, even though the film showed Japanese 17th century culture there are parallels that can be drawn: the ferver of spreading the christian faith back then challenges the church today as does the conviction of ‘truth’ and how far we today are willing to go to share that conviction.
The film showed that when priests where killed the gospel flourished, but when they were forced into becoming apostate the gospel and influence of Christianity dwindled, but not quite snuffed out.
This is portrayed in the character of the pioneering missionary Preist Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a Jesuit who had reportedly gone native, turning his back on the cross and living as a Japanese with wife and family to match.
Throughout the film there are references to roots, soil, land, seed and plants, symbolising the message of Jesus and the Catholic Church that sends missionaries to Japan. According to Christianity Today:
“Silence has a lot to say to the church about cross-cultural missions and contextualization. “You missionaries do not seem to know Japan,” says Inoue, (played by Issey Ogata) who insists the “tree” of Christianity won’t take root in the soil of Japan. It may be fruitful in Portugal and Europe, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t work in Japan. Rodrigues responds with a defense of the universality of truth: “If a doctrine wasn’t as true in Japan as it is in Portugal, we could not call it true.”
What struck me at the end of the film was to see that it was dedicated to “Japanese Christians and their pastors,” today. This encouraged me and reminded me that just as Paul writes in Colossians chapter 1:
The same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world and changing lives everywhere, just as it changed yours that very first day you heard it and understood about God’s great kindness to sinners.
The message of Jesus has tried to be silenced in every culture, yet it still grows and flourishes, despite attempts to cease it.
There is a cracking resource available to help you engage with this film by Deamrius trust: you can find this here.🇯🇵 This may help you work through some tough questions about Christianity as the film certainly challenges faith, but my advice would be to go and see it and immerse yourself within it and allow the silence to wash over you and dare I say it, experience God speak to you through it.
Overview from Demaris: Based on the classic novel by Shusaku Endo, this epic drama tells the story of two devout and reverent young Jesuit priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver). In the early 17th century they risk violence and persecution as they journey to Japan in search of their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who travelled to Japan many years before and has now gone missing. Upon arrival in Japan, the two young priests discover a country in which Catholicism has been banned and where the new government is systematically eradicating any followers of the Christian faith; circumstances which test their beliefs to the limit as they search for the mysterious Father Ferreira.