This is a spoiler free overview of the movie Silence by Martin Scorcese. If you are a youth pastor, I do not recommend taking the whole youth group to see this movie. This is not God’s Not Dead. This movie is a deep and powerful film about the journey of faith. It is 2 hour and 45 minutes long and most teens will check out in first 30.
This is a great movie for deep thinking kids who are mature in and want to talk about their faith. I recommend this for older students, juniors through college and career.
The movie is taken from the 1966 book by Shusaku Endo and is the true story of Christians being persecuted in Japan.
Two priests (Garfield and Driver) go to Japan to see if their mentor Father Cristóvão Ferreira has given up his faith. The two priests discover, that despite the persecution of Christians there is an under ground church of sorts. Without priests to guide them, the villagers they meet have makeshift baptisms and gather for prayers, but there is no one to hear their confessions and to absolve them of sin.
The villagers are a character in this movie. Their faithfulness and determination in the face of death are inspiring and heart breaking.
The author John Grisham recently said on a podcast that he spends more time developing the villains in his books than anyone else because villains make the story. The is truth. I hated the “villains” in Silence, not just because they tortured people, but because they were emotionally and psychologically cruel.
The two main antagonists in the film are a character called The Inquisitor, Inoue Masashige, played by Japanese actor Issei Ogata. The Inquisitor’s job is to out Christians from among the Japanese people and get them to apostatize (deny Jesus).
The second “villain” is even worse, the translator between the Father Rodriguez and the Inquisitor played by Tadanobu Asano. His words drip with honey and poison, trying to undermine Father Rodriquez’s faith. I squirmed when he would speak and almost said aloud, “Shut your mouth!” several times.
Our protagonists Adam Drive and Andrew Garfield are fantastic and believable. These young priests go to do God’s work in Japan and face unimaginable horrors. Both Driver and Garfield deliver and my heart bled for them as I remembered the fervor of my faith when I was a teenager. I rooted for these guys and my faith in them never wavered.
Andrew Garfield, in my opinion, pushed his acting ability to the brink in this movie. As a priest, He struggled with his faith to the point of insanity and at times you felt he had truly gone mad. Andrew gave a great interview of how he prepared for the part of Father Rodriquez and that his great surprise was how easy it was to fall in love with Jesus.
I cannot leave out Liam Neeson who plays Cristóvão Ferreira. Although his screen time is short, it is no less powerful. You forget what a great actor Liam is until he doesn’t have a gun in his hand and then he delivers in spades.
If there are not at least four actor and supporting actor Oscar nods for Silence, I don’t know what movie the voters were watching.
Complex Spiritual Material
The story begins with a simple mission, find Father Ferreira and see if he is alive and if he is “lost”, apostatized. This is a Scorsese film and nothing is simple about any of his films. As in many of Scorses films he leaves us to draw our own conclusion about characters and the subject matter.
As I watched the movie I kept thinking I knew what silence meant, and like Father Rodriquez, I felt I was going mad every time another layer of the onion was pulled off.
This movie is was as much a journey of my own faith at it is was of Father Rodriquez and Father Franciso’s faith. The layers of what my own faith means to me, is pulled away, reshuffled, and put back in place.
I don’t mean this in a heretical way or that my theological views were upset, but rather that I will dug deeper into what it means to have faith in God beyond any Christian trope or platitude I had been taught, seen or experienced, and this is a good thing.
I took a long walk after this movie to contemplate many of the issues it brought up. As Christians in a land of freedom, there isn’t much we can relate to in this movie. No one has asked us to step on the face of Jesus and asked use to renounce our faith. This makes asking the question, “What would I do?” far to simplistic. We have no idea what we do or what justifications we would make and that is where the movie challenges us to grow.
Faith in America is taken for granted. We think someone posting something ugly on the internet about Christianity or about Jesus is persecution. We think red cups and green cups at Christmas time is persecution. Are we crazy?
This movie was a re-awkening of how easy believers have it in America. I wept, openly during this movie for those who paid the price for their faith and some of those were tears were of self pity that I was not there take my stand with them.
Watch the movie and then thank God you weren’t there, because none of us can tell what the outcome of our faith would have been. And maybe it is best, under those circumstances, we do not know what we would have chosen.
So Many Illustrations
If you are a youth pastor, Sunday school teacher, or small group leader, it will be a temptation to cheapen this movie and pull some kind of stunt to get kids to respond as part of a message. I would caution you not to do that because it will not have the effect you thought.
This movie is about deep questions not cheap stunts. Prayerfully consider how you might use this film to deepen someone’s faith for the future rather than trying to get them to make a short term decision.
There is a character in this movie that was not a villain, but I “hated” him none the less because he reminded me of me first and so many teens and adults I have ministered to over the years second.
Kichijiro, played by Yôsuke Kubozuka, is the character who leads our priests to Japan. His back story unfolds early in the movie and you have such high hopes for him and then, slowly, you are disgusted by him because there is so much of him in us.
Kichijiro reminds me of the naked disciple who followed Jesus after his arrest Mark 14:51– 52 but his clothes are ripped off again, and again.
The last hour of the film is about breaking Father Rodriguez. Each Christian they capture is stood in front of a fumi-e, a small square image of Christ and is asked to step on it to renounce their faith. You will find yourself standing there asking yourself, “Would I or wouldn’t I?”.
The movie is more nuanced than simply stepping on a picture of Jesus, so I would ask you not to run off and lay a picture of Jesus on the floor asking students to line up and step on it or not. Without the context of the movie this type of illustration will fall flat and deny your kids from asking deeper questions.
There is a line in the movie that you could feed your kids, it is spoken by the devilish interpreter who says of stepping on the image of Jesus, “It s just a formality.” That’s something to dig into.
Let me know if you saw the movie and what you though of it.
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