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Silence is a masterpiece that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. I don’t know when I’ve ever seen an adaptation that so well translates the nuance of its source material. But after seeing the film, my wife made a critical observation of the story that I think is worth pointing out.
As I believe everyone knows, the story deals with persecution and suffering and the nature of apostasy. It’s gut-wrenching, and doesn’t give easy answers, doesn’t let anyone off the hook. It’s a swamp of impossible moral choices and subtleties that ought to unsettle anyone who watches (or reads) it.
But in the midst of its portrayal of suffering and persecution, what’s missing is a discussion of resurrection. The Christian perspective on suffering and death fundamentally changes in the light of bodily resurrection, and it’s notable that none of the priests in the story make any mention of it. Why?
One possible reason is that it’s difficult to discuss resurrection in the context of a story about suffering without seeming like you’re explaining away the unpleasantness or offering a trite answer to a painful reality. It’s kind of like telling a friend at a funeral to cheer up because “heaven’s got a new angel”—an unhelpful or even hurtful sentiment in a moment of grief.
Or maybe Endo, and by extension Scorsese, was primarily concerned with the subject of suffering and apostasy and limited his authorial lens in order to keep the focus on those issues, choosing not to engage the wider implications of resurrection.
None of this lessens my love for the book or the film, but the question looms large and makes me wonder about the omission. Would my feelings about Rodrigues’s choices be different if he’d demonstrated a more robust Christian theology? What differences are there between what we see of Endo’s portrayal of martyrs and apostates in Japan versus what history tells us of other martyrs, specifically those of the early church? How does a concrete belief in the resurrection of the body explain those differences? Does Silence embody a meaningful view of the resurrection? If so, how? If not, why?
I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the matter, or on the film/book in general. What do you think?
Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.