One’s first encounter with Silence — whether reading the 1966 Japanese novel by Shusaku Endo or watching the 2016 Hollywood movie adaptation by Martin Scorsese — can be a challenging experience for several reasons. For one thing, the content of the story is challenging. Silence is about the persecution of Christians in seventeenth-century Japan, and it includes several harrowing scenes depicting the torture and execution of Japanese martyrs. (The film is rated R due to graphic violence.) The story builds to a devastating climactic dilemma in which a priest must choose between denying Christ or watching the Christians he serves be tortured to death. Worse, the way this scene plays out challenges orthodox theological views of apostasy. The scene seems to portray the voice of Christ Himself justifying apostasy in this case to save innocent lives. I don’t think this is in fact the best way to interpret the novel or the film. The reason it seems to make this error is that, beyond the challenging content, the form of the story — the way the story is told — is challenging as well.
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