When the theological ambiguity disappears, so does the film’s appealby Sameer Rahim / January 28, 2017 / Leave a comment
Few Hollywood films have the courage to tackle a religious crisis. Even a director as eminent as Martin Scorsese has taken years—28 to be precise—to get the funding to adapt Shusaku Endo’s superb 1966 novel Silence. The story of Christian missionaries being persecuted in 17th-century Japan was evidently thought to have little popular appeal, at least in comparison to the hedonism-fuelled Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Scorsese’s previous film. Perhaps the producers were right to be wary. Silence has had mixed reviews and been snubbed by the Oscars. In the screening I was in, about 20 people slipped out after an hour, perhaps when it became clear that at no point would either of its leads be sniffing cocaine off a prostitute.
That’s a shame because Silence is one of the most thought-provoking films about religion I have seen in recent years. It grapples with belief, conscience, conversion, colonialism and what it feels like to be abandoned by God. In the era of renewed religious persecutions—Christians, Yazidis and Shia by Islamic State in Iraq, and Muslims by extremist Buddhists in Burma—it is also grimly relevant.