In the 17th century Christianity was illegal in Japan. Two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel there in hopes of locating Father Cristovão Ferreira, their mentor, who is rumored to have committed apostasy. They also hope to spread the gospel. Upon arriving, they find several groups of secret Christians who are delighted to have priests once again. However, eventually the authorities get wind of this. One of the priests is killed; the other, Rodrigues finds Father Ferreira, who has indeed renounced Christianity. It then documents his spiritual struggle as he tries to decide if Father Ferreira is right — is it wrong to evangelize people who will then be tortured and killed for their beliefs? Is Christianity a belief system that simply can’t flourish among the Japanese?
This movie is long (almost 3 hours) and can drag at times. In my opinion, the greatest value was being exposed to the mistreatment inflicted on people in places where Christians are persecuted. This was hard to see, and something I think we tend to forget in the West. In the end, because his refusal to apostatize is causing the Japanese Inquisitor to torture and kill Christian villagers, the Father Rodrigues gives in. His prayers are met with silence. He doesn’t know what decision is right. He and Father Ferreira help the Japanese sort through trade goods, making sure Christian items aren’t smuggled into the country. They marry Japanese women and appear to lead Buddhist lives.
Forty years later Rodrigues dies and is given a traditional Buddhist burial. However, at the end, his wife slips a cross into his hand.
What are we to think? Possibly he remained a secret Christian, but did he convert or serve others as a priest? If he remained an apostate, how was he be received by God? Is the best decision to save lives or save souls? What if you can’t do both? The ending is unresolved (silent) so you can imagine what you wish.
VERDICT: 2 STARS. A dilemma that should have created empathy somehow left me feeling detached and a bit bored.