Silence is beautiful, unsettling, and one of the finest religious movies ever made

Shūsaku Endō’s novel Silence (first published in Japanese in 1966 as Chinmoku, then translated into English in 1969) is slippery and troubling, a book that refuses to behave. It flatters no reader; it refuses to comfort anyone. In telling the story of Portuguese priests and persecuted Christians in Japan, it navigates the tension between missionary and colonizer, East and West, Christianity and Buddhism and political ideology, but refuses to land on definitive answers.

Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating film Silence is based on Endō’s novel, which he read shortly after his 1988 film Last Temptation of Christ was protested and condemned by the Catholic Church and other conservative Christians 28 years ago. It’s almost impossible to capture the nuances of a novel like Endō’s for the screen; Masahiro Shinoda tried in 1971, and Endō reportedly hated the ending. But Scorsese comes about as close as one can imagine, and the results are challenging for both the faithful and the skeptic.

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