Silence: Historical Persecution That Strikes A Modern Chord

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1 March 2017

Scorsese’s latest film, Silence, looks closely at the issue of persecution and the cost of faith. The films' portrayal of persecution is brutal and unflinching. But the real achievement is uncovering the true complexity of persecution. Even set in 17th century Japan, I found Silence struck a distinctly modern chord.

Even set in 17th century Japan, I found Silence struck a distinctly modern chord. 

The film centres around two Jesuit priests played by Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield. The pair ask to go to Japan after receiving disturbing news their mentor, played by Liam Neeson, has left the faith. They arrive in Japan to discover the crushing persecution going on in the name of a pure Japan, free from all outside influences–including Christianity. 

It begins by showing the two priests sheltered in an underground church. The ramifications of this are made all too real not far into the film, as the faith of this community is discovered and then punished with absolute brutality. 

To test the faith of suspected Christians, they are told to stamp on a piece of religious iconography. If they refuse, they are killed. When the villagers ask the two priests what they should do, Andrew Garfield’s character says, “You stamp!” 

It is tempting to say that this is wrong. But telling someone they should be burned to death or drowned when it is not being applied to you is difficult. In the next scene this plays out, and each person stamps before again being challenged. This time they must spit on a cross. Only one refuses. The rest are killed. 

For the one who refuses we are shown in a person someone who time and time again seems to fall down in their faith. This person remains present for the entirety of the film and certainly made me consider the depth of God’s grace.

Although the response we see from this particular character I find hard to remove from that of Peter in Luke 22. It would not have been easy and God clearly had it in his plan. I also want to extend grace in the response of telling followers to stamp. It is difficult for me to think that a depiction of Jesus being stamped on is harder or worse than my sins being placed on him at the cross.

While it is no longer the case that Christians face intense persecution in Japan, many moments were eerily similar to what I have seen in other countries today. Just recently a women came forward in Iraq saying she was forced by Islamic State soldiers to spit on a cross. Or even in Nigeria the testimony of Elizabeth* recounting what happened when she was abducted by Boko Haram.  

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Image: Women praying in Nigeria.

“When we arrived in the camp, some of the girls who were captured with us refused to be Islamised. They stood firm in Christ. I saw them being stoned to death as they called on Jesus. I was terrified and agreed to become a Muslim to spare my life.”

These were just some stories that immediately came to mind as I watched. But by far the hardest question posed by the film, was best put by Fairfax and Eternity News journalist Sebastian James. “What would you do if someone you love is being tortured and slowly put to death, and the only way you could end their suffering is by giving up your love for Jesus Christ?” 

This is what is presented in Silence and a stark reality for many Christians today. Persecution is not easy and rarely is it as simple as standing up for your own faith. This film gives a real insight into what persecution can feel like for many believers. 

I recommend this film highly but would say that it is long. There are stretches of literal silence and I enjoyed the beautiful cinematography but know not everyone will. My only other note is from my companion who came along and is a film maker. He said, “Non-Christians will find the first half uncomfortable, and love the second. While Christians will love the first half and find the second uncomfortable.” This film will challenge your faith and perceptions of persecution.

Click here to find out more information on what it is like to be a persecuted Christian today.


This post was written by Tim Reid. Tim is the Media Coordinator at Open Doors Australia. Contact Tim at