Scorsese film about persecuted Japanese Christians will hit theaters at Christmas

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Liam Neeson as a Jesuit priest, Father Ferreira, in Silence. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Shusaku Endo. | Paramount Pictures

HOLLYWOOD (Christian Examiner) – Martin Scorsese could be in the running for another Academy Award for his long-awaited film on the work of two 17th-century Catholic priests who went to Japan in search of their mentor after church leaders receive a report of his abandonment of the faith.

Silence stars Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) as the two Jesuit priests who feel in their heart the senior priest, played by Liam Neeson (Taken), could not have possibly committed apostasy.

The two arrive in Japan after an incredibly difficult journey, only to find that their troubles are not over. Lower Japan is embroiled in a war between peasants and the ruling Shogun, who heavily tax the people and conscript men (and women) for forced labor. They also prohibit Christianity, and it is this prohibition and the persecution of Catholic Christians in Japan that serves as the driving force in the film.

Silence is based on Shusaku Endo's 1966 novel of the same name. While a work of historical fiction, the characters are loosely based on real priests who arrived during the Shimabara Rebellion in 1637-38 when foreigners and especially Christian foreigners were distrusted. In many cases, they were killed quickly.

The Shogun's response to the Shimabara Rebellion drove Catholic Christians underground and virtually wiped the church out until French Catholics reintroduced it 200 years later. It was called the era of the Kakure Kirishitan or "Hidden Christians."

Endo brought the era to life in vivid detail, describing the manners in which the Japanese Christians were identified. In the novel, as will be depicted in the movie, authorities ask suspected Christians to trample a fumie, or a crude image of Christ on the cross. Those who will not are are tortured and killed.

Silence, according to Matt Goldberg at Collider, will be a contender for an Oscar as nearly all of Scorsese's films have been, especially if the film's trailer is any indication. Goldberg described it as "pretty incredible."

He wrote that the film will "dive deep into questions of not only religious tolerance, but how religion functions in a societal power structure. While the set-up is two priests looking for their mentor, the film looks like it goes far beyond that premise to show the dangers of ministering the faith to the Japanese people. I also love that this looks like the protagonists will be wrestling with their faith and having it tested in a foreign land. Scorsese films always offer plenty to chew on, and Silence looks like it will be no different."

In fact, the priests' tension with the ideas of faith and suffering are a focus of Endo's book. The climax of the book comes when one of the priests is forced to choose between stepping on the fumie and continuing to listen to his missionary partner and other Christians being tortured and killed.

Silence, from Paramount Pictures, opens in theaters Dec. 23.