BOOK/MOVIE REVIEW: Silence by Shūsaku Endō

Upon finishing Shūsaku Endō’s novel Silence, my World Literature class and professor went to see the movie, just released near the end of 2016. This harrowing tale of two Portuguese priests traveling to Japan to spread Christianity and find out what happened to their teacher played out beautifully on the big screen, and I surprisingly did not find myself bored, especially as the movie was two hours and forty-two minutes. The movie itself was good: I liked how the book played out. The script, casting, drama, and depictions of the events in the novel (particularly the torture scenes) were well-done. I found myself captured and brought into Japan myself, angry for Christians being so unfairly persecuted because the officials saw Christianity as “dangerous.” And why? Why was Buddhism any better?

My main takeaway from this movie and book falls under Jesus’ last words before His ascension: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). This past Sunday, our sermon was centered on these verses, as we are commemorating our annual Mission Emphasis Week. I found it incredibly helpful in articulating my thoughts concerning Silence.

Rodrigues, the main character in Silence, is a priest in love with Jesus and who appears to have a very strong faith. In fact, he is willing to trust a drunken Judas-like character (Kichijiro), disobey his companion Garrupe, and go where Christianity is forbidden all for Jesus. When Garrupe hides, fearing a trap to expose them, Rodrigues risks their safety to preach Jesus, baptize, hear confessions, and celebrate Mass. However, as the torture continues and Rodrigues’ psyche begins to break down, he begins feeling angry, demanding to know why God is being so silent. Why has there been no glory in the martyring he has seen? Why has God not given a sign, miracle, or punishment to the torturers? God seems silent in this foreign land, and at the end of the story it appears Rodrigues will follow in his teacher’s (Ferreira) footsteps, apostatize, forget Christianity, and live as a Japanese.

But here is the key: Jesus said “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” Rodrigues continually struggles with God’s apparent silence throughout the story, begging for Him to reveal Himself in this country. At the end however, though seeming to have given up the faith, he continues to live in such a way that the Japanese officials think it necessary to frequently have him step on the fumie and deny Christ. Denying Christ in front of men seems a sin, as the Bible says “But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:33). But in Rodrigues’ case, it almost seems justified, since his first apostatizing saves the lives of some Christian peasants, who also apostatized out of desperation. Though they are denying God in a way, aren’t their hearts still true to Him? I struggle with this since Rodrigues poses himself as more righteous than the Japanese in some ways, from appearance to actions. He hides when Mokichi and Ichizo die by water torture, not confronting the officials or making a brave move for Christ. Isn’t it more noble to die for Christ than to deny and hide one’s faith? The answer seems difficult.

When Rodrigues steps on the fumie, having come this far without denying or apostatizing, he hears Christ saying it is all right for him to do so, knowing he is still faithful. Yet when he does so, a rooster crows, symbolizing when Peter heard a rooster crow the third time he denied Christ. So is Rodrigues a denier or a faithful man? It’s a puzzling paradox Endō is proposing.

Overall, the movie was enjoyable and I would say it stayed true to the book - the ending was only slightly altered, but was still well-done. I find it interesting this movie is receiving so much flack.

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