Faith walks hand in hand with insular communities so often that we begin to wonder which begat the other. How simple the world looks when we exist only among others who resolutely believe the same as we do. Scorsese's Silence examines the shift, how the devout can become the apostate, all of our concrete beliefs made sand by seeing life through the eyes of another. What is the difference between having one's eyes opened and being blinded? Religion can affect and reflect a culture. To the historian, a religion develops in a region due to cultural beliefs, brought on by environmental circumstances; all elements of life inform it. To the pious, it was brought to mortals from beyond our world, it comes directly from God. To the ruler, religion is a powerful tool for commanding allegiance, for uniting a people under a country. Silence deals with each in its own way, slowly emerging from the individual perspective and into the national. We journey from a world made only of believers and non-believers into a world in which the existence of 'belief' is all that matters, not the circumstances as such. Belief is a means to an end, to be wielded by those who govern. To see their religious order and convictions portrayed as mere hegemony from one ruler against another, sends the priests who came to Japan in the 1600's spiraling downward with doubt. On the field in which they live their lives, these questions do not matter, there is only God and his teachings. When faced with their deeds seen as mere tools of imperialism against a secular nation, it throws all else into question. Silence sees beneath the veil of belief and questions everything.
Ultimately, we exist in a world that we do not fully understand; a world of unseen forces and unseen hands that affect our daily lives in ways we will never know. To the peasant, as depicted here, the world is a confusing slog of suffering and labor. When men arrive from afar speaking of God and Paradise, acceptance of which can lead to a beautiful life after death, they believe this notion with all of their hearts. They believe because of the potential reward and happiness, not from an understanding of the message presented. The works of God and of the Buddha, and all the forces of nature, are just as unseen and mysterious regardless of belief. The works of Japan's governance are just as confounding, as the people play cat and mouse, hiding their newfound religion and salvation from the 'Inquisitor' and the deadly tortures that await as punishment for belief. The peasantry struggle to save their souls and attain eternal life, the nobility struggle against the nobility from distant lands, who have sent holy men to Japan as a means of infiltration into the culture. The European powers mean to gain control of the Japanese people through religion and plunder their land, taking it for their own, do they not? Where, in all of this, do the Jesuits fit, then? Are they unwitting imperialists, deeply faithful, trying to save the people of the world? Scorsese presents this to us as the truth, at least as far as Andrew Garfield's Father Rodrigues is concerned. The film initially centers around the strength of belief, the power of being willing to die a painful death rather than denounce the deity one worships, a deep feeling of loyalty in all human beings that cannot be compromised, or all life ceases to hold meaning. We find a dangerous world, where the truth of the world we left behind is now a dangerous fallacy in the new one. As Garfield journeys further toward the epicenter of what has been terrorizing the Japanese peasants, he sees firsthand what it is to be indoctrinated into a new set of beliefs himself. He came here to convert lost people to his way of thinking, but instead is led away from his own beliefs and abandons his creed. Piece by piece, he gives away the belief he holds within himself to these people, then asks them to deny it to save themselves from torture. The insane acts of suffering seem admirable at first, then ludicrous, then worthless. We see the character of Kichijiro embody that which all devout holy men fear, the self-aware sinner, who sins without haste in full knowledge that their confession will absolve them and they can try again. Scorsese uses the film to question all about faith and the place of religion in this world. When we look around, finally, by the end of the film, the only interaction that these two worlds have is religious conversion and trade. An imperialistic imprinting of belief structures or a transactional exchange of goods. Silence, then, questions humanity itself. Why do we interact if only to imprint our beliefs on another or transact?
Communion with another being, and with the world around us, results from neither. A relationship with God and a religious belief are deeply personal things, all life is a struggle between what is within and what is without. The belief came from without and ends up being the deepest piece of an interior life. Outside of this deep and meditative interior peace we see only transaction,. One is giving, one is taking, one is winning. The state deals with life only in the material sense. The individual must deal with both. Scorsese has crafted a work on par with his finest. A film that has been developed and nearly filmed for decades finally sees the screen and is a deeply affecting experience. The only regrettable element is that we're not able to linger on some of the best visuals, nor can the film breath or be still for long. The pace is quick from shot-to-shot, though the story moves slowly and deliberately. Rather than trim the beauty entirely, it's merely cut short. We're left with silence at the end of it all; the silence of ourselves as we cannot muster anything else, as well as the silence of those around us. Difficult questions rarely breed answers at all, just pensive thought. Scorsese deftly handles a tale of ideology as a weapon of the powerful, told from the perspective of one subject to it. He chooses questions without answers, and we see the lives of those who ultimately wander in darkness and silence as they search for a meaning to it all.