Above: Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, and Adam Driver star in ‘Silence’
A film starring Liam Neeson, highlighting the persecution of Christians in 17th century Japan, was premiered at the Vatican in Rome this week in front of an audience of 300 Jesuit priests.
Director Martin Scorcese then met with Pope Francis the morning after the film premiere. The making of the film was a labour of love for Scorcese; he’s been working on it for around 28 years.
Scorcese, who once spent a year at a high school for boys considering the priesthood, is known for tackling spiritual themes throughout his film career. His meeting with Pope Francis was significant not just for himself but for the Pope too, who is a Jesuit, has read the book Silence, and once wanted to go to Japan as a missionary according to Reuters.
Missionaries Suffering for their Faith
Silence is based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Japanese Catholic writer Shusaku Endo, about two Portuguese Jesuits who head into the wilds of anti-Christian Japan to find their missing fellow missionary.
It deals with the heart-wrenching themes of torture, persecution, and impossible choices between renouncing faith, or dying.
Two of the starring roles are played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, who took week-long silent retreats at a Jesuit house in Wales in preparation for the film, according to Rolling Stone.
Neeson a Jesuit Priest for the Second Time
Liam Neeson plays Father Cristóvão Ferreira, the missionary who is missing in Japan. It’s not his first religious role; in fact he’s played a Jesuit priest once before, alongside Jeremy Irons in the 1986 film The Mission.
He’s also tackled the subject of faith-healers, playing a sceptical sheriff in the 1992 comedy Leap of Faith, and in the Narnia film series beginning in 2005, he played the voice of Aslan the lion, who represents Christ.
Film is Martin Scorcese’s Meditation on Silence
The title of Silence comes from a phrase of dialogue in the film, in which one of the suffering missionaries says, “I pray but I am lost; Am I just praying to silence?” It doesn’t sugar-coat persecution, and is not afraid to explore issues like doubt, fear, and denial of faith.
An expert on Shusako Endo’s novels, Professor Mark Williams, told The Guardian that Silence’s biggest theme was the individual spiritual journey of each character. He said while the novel Silence was popular in Japan, the “hardcore Catholic community” view it as “blasphemous” because of some of the characters’ decisions.
The film’s trailer comes with a frenetic soundtrack, but the movie itself contains almost no music, instead atmospheric soundscapes and sound effects. This was deliberate choice by Martin Scorcese who wanted to thoroughly explore the theme of quiet and silence. Scorcese told Vatican Radio that he had grown up in the “cacophony” of New York City, and that he spent a lot of time retreating to New York’s St Patricks Cathedral, the only silent place he could find.
Japan’s Chequered History Around Christianity
In Japan, Christianity was outlawed for around 250 years, with tens of thousands of Japanese believers suffering torture and dying for their faith.
While freedom was granted to Christians in 1873, less than 1% of Japan’s population now follows the Christian faith.
Silence hits Australian cinemas on February 16, 2017. Viewers are warned that it contains disturbing images of martyrdom.