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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Seeing silence

Andrew Garfield and Yôsuke Kubozuka
Having seen Martin Scorcese's Silence (seeing silence--strange way of speaking) late Sunday night in Utica, I want to recommend it, and also this Alissa Wilkinson review, which I find more nuanced, attentive, and accurate than most of the reviews I have seen since.
The genius of Endō’s story and Scorsese’s adaptation is that it won’t characterize anyone as a saint, nor will it either fully condone or reject the colonialist impulses, the religious oppression, the apostasy, or the faltering faith of its characters. There is space within the story for every broken attempt to fix the world. Endō’s answer still lies in Christ, but his perception of Christ is radically different from what most people are familiar with — and even those who don’t identify with Christianity will find the film unnerving and haunting (Vox.)
Having mulled over the review, I would add that the hidden Christians, poor and dirty Japanese peasants, already know something important that the young, eager Rodrigues does not: that they will never be Christ but that they need Christ. By trampling the fumi-e to save five tortured Christians, Rodrigues fully enters into that knowledge for himself. The shift to a more removed voice-over narrative emphasizes this impression, as we observe the broken, reprobate priest from a Dutch Christian point of view, while the camera shows us what the narrator cannot know.

Now I expect an interesting thing to do would be to read Shūsaku Endō’s Silence and Makoto Fujimura's Silence and Beauty, both sitting on my shelves. (Mako is credited in the movie credits as advisor, and as an artist in the nihongan mode who grew up in Japan and the states, he is well placed to consider the complexities of the novel.)

p. s. Yes, Rodrigo Prieto received the only Oscar nomination for this movie. (That's only slightly worse than I expected.) Don't let that stop you.

p. p. s. Linnet Moss on the book and the movie here.


  1. Thank you for your elegant posting. I look forward to seeing the film. You remind of a difficult lesson: Christians (like me, a Christian malgre lui) often have forgotten about the true Christ, and remembering can be difficult.

    1. Alissa Wilkinson: Shūsaku Endō’s novel Silence (first published in Japanese in 1966 as Chinmoku, then translated into English in 1969) is slippery and troubling, a book that refuses to behave. It flatters no reader; it refuses to comfort anyone. In telling the story of Portuguese priests and persecuted Christians in Japan, it navigates the tension between missionary and colonizer, East and West, Christianity and Buddhism and political ideology, but refuses to land on definitive answers.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.