2017-04-23 08:00

Johannesburg - This week is a bad one for movie openings. There’s debuting director Ewan McGregor’s American Pastoral, which scored 23% on film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes; Anna Kendrick comedy flop Table 19, which got 20%; and In Dubious Battle, a James Franco adaptation of a John Steinbeck novel, which scored a lowly 29%.

Stepping into the void is renowned director Martin Scorsese’s (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed) Silence, starring Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Liam Neeson (Taken) and Adam Driver, who you might know from Lena Dunham’s drama series, Girls.

It’s the 17th century, and Christians are being tortured and executed in Japan by the Tokugawa shogunate government. Portuguese Jesuit priests Father Sebastião Rodrigues and Father Francisco Garupe hear that their mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira, renounced his faith after being captured and tortured. Unable to believe that a leader they thought of as unshakeable has apostatised, they set off for Japan to not only find Ferreira, but strengthen Christianity there.

Apart from breathtaking cinematography, a stunning devotion to capturing the detail of 17th-century Japan and powerful performances by all involved, Silence will make both atheists and Christians interrogate their beliefs.

From one perspective, this is a portrait of two narcissistic priests who, by virtue of their own stubborn and misguided beliefs, spread a dangerous doctrine in an impoverished country.

On the other hand, it’s the portrait of two extremely brave men who, aided by Christ, spread Christianity in a dark land where an evil government is trying to crush the name of the Lord.

And then it gets complex. If you’re an atheist, you can’t help being moved by the unshakeable faith of the believers – both the priests and the Japanese who keep practising Christianity despite having to deal with unspeakable terror.

You might even find yourself wondering whether you need to find more spirituality, more faith, more meaning in your life – even if it’s not in the form of Christianity.

If you’re a Christian, you could find yourself questioning the nature of your religion, especially in terms of the way missionaries spread it in far-flung lands, often to the detriment of the people who lived there. You’ll wonder why God allows his people to be tortured and killed in His name.

Along with The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun, this is the third film in which Scorsese tackles religion and issues of struggling with faith.

It’s essential post-Easter viewing, for believers and nonbelievers alike. Be sure not to miss it.

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