Silence offers no easy answers. In fact, it may not offer any answers at all.
Martin Scorsese has always had a deep current of religion running through his movies, and this is his most explicitly Catholic since 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ. But unlike that movie, which in many ways was an affirmation of faith, almost all Silence gives us is questions. Questions about the nature of faith, what a person must endure for faith, what a person owes to others in service of that faith, and what it really means to sacrifice oneself for one’s faith. And whether any of it matters anyway.
Andrew Garfield is a 17th-century Portuguese Jesuit priest sent to Japan to find Liam Neeson, another priest who it’s rumored gave up the faith in the face of extreme persecution. Christianity is outlawed in Japan at the time, and the penalties include extreme torture and death, and nearly all missionaries have been wiped out, save, perhaps, Neeson’s Father Ferreira, who may have renounced his faith to save his own life.
Garfield travels with Adam Driver, and their journey is a grueling ordeal, beginning as they minister to those few Japanese Christians who are still practicing in secret, but who are inevitably discovered by the Japanese inquisitor and subjected to beheading, drowning, burning, and worse as the Japanese authorities try to stamp out what they see as an insidious virus in their society. More important for the Japanese, though, is getting Garfield and Driver to renounce their faith, which they expect will break the back of what Christianity still exists in the country. All of which ends up with Garfield enduring his own captivity and particularly devastating mental torture in pursuit of trying to get him to become apostate.
But this isn’t a story of good vs. evil. Garfield is no hero, just as his tormenters are not truly demons—they’re all simply people wrestling with the biggest of questions and largely coming up with the futility of finding more questions. And what triumph of faith there is is subtle--the “silence” of the title refers largely to the lack of answers Garfield finds when he prays for guidance and his ultimate need to find those answers within.