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Directed by Martin Scorsese

Japan, 2016

HOME, 3 January 2017


Apparently Martin Scorsese has long wanted to make this film.

It has been on his mind for a decade or more, so we should be grateful that he has finally got it out of his system. While the actual execution is sometimes laboured – sporadically, it drags – and certain scenes are distressing – there is bloodshed and beheading – it is a serious film, of that there is no doubt.

Two young Jesuit priests go to Japan in search of Father Ferreira (played by Liam Neeson), their former mentor. Reports have reached Rome that Ferreira has apostatised – that is: denied the faith – but they don’t believe it. They, the two priests, want to find Ferreira, speak with him and learn the truth. As you watch Silence, you think of Apocalypse Now, for Ferreira is a kind of Kurtz figure and the quest to find him drives the narrative, and it is close in spirit as well to The Last Temptation of Christ, another film where Scorsese tackles Catholicism head-on. Here, though, the central figure (albeit incognito) is not Christ but Peter, the rock on which the church was built, and to a lesser degree Judas: the apostles who denied and betrayed Christ. Although not, curiously enough, Thomas: for while there is an agony in not understanding God’s Will, His existence is never doubted.

This was a film that Scorsese probably needed to make and it is useful in getting a grip on what he is about. But I don’t feel a desire to watch it again in a hurry. An adaptation of a John Fante novel, mind; that would be plenty sweet.

And as for apostasy: if the priests were lying, like Peter, then that was a venial and not a mortal sin. So they will go to purgatory (not hell), and can still be saved. As any Catholic schoolboy knows…