1633. Somewhere in
Portugal, a grizzled Monsignor, Father Valignano (Ciaran Hinds)
interviews two eager young priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew
Garfield), and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver) about going to Japan.
He says he has decided not to send them, because of the
persecutions there. (The
viewer has already been introduced to Christians being tortured if
they don’t renounce their faith, a rather gruesome opening sequence,
even for Martin Scorsese.) But
the two eager young missionaries beg to go.
They say they want to meet up with their mentor, Father
Ferreira (Liam Neeson), because it was he who inspired them to want to
go “proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth” in the first
place. Reluctantly, he
allows them to try to make contact with Father Ferreira, and build on
the work he has already accomplished there.
But of course, what they find there is quite different from
what they had envisioned. Instead
of a vibrant Christian community eager to receive them as ambassadors
of the Gospel, what they find instead is a new wave of persecutions,
with the few beleaguered and harried believers cowering in hovels,
afraid to even venture out among their own people, for fear of being
reported, and sought out for personal torture.
There are no churches. There
are no happy receptive natives eager to hear “the truth” from
In fact, what they find is that the few refugee-Christians are
indeed glad to see them, to receive the sacrament and hear Mass again,
but their meetings are small and pitiful, and the people are
pathetically poor. Worse,
our missionary padres didn’t even bother to learn the language.
Oh, they know the Latin of the Mass all right, but they have to
find people to speak English with them.
And the only English speakers are the ones who went to the
schools that were set up by previous missionaries, who themselves have
all disappeared, except for maybe Father Ferreira.
And about him the two eager young priests hear the most
disheartening news of all: he
has renounced the faith, gone native, become a Buddhist, and married a
Japanese woman. The young
priests tell themselves that surely this rumor must be false.
That can’t be true about their beloved mentor.
If it is true, that would be a sad commentary on their
representation of Christianity.
It doesn’t take long before “The Inquisitors” (an ironic
play on words, because of The Inquisition in Europe at the time, which
was the Catholic Church’s version of rooting out the Protestant
apostasy) start hunting down the priests.
The priests separate, to try to insure one of them survives,
and for most of the rest of the film we concentrate on Father
Rodrigues, as he is captured, interrogated, and encouraged by his
captors to renounce his faith, like Father Ferreira before him.
Father Rodrigues vacillates between telling himself to be
strong, and beginning to despair of ever being released.
He tries to think about what Jesus would do, and even once
thinks he sees in image of Jesus in a reflected pool of water, telling
him to keep the faith. But
he feels his resolve weakening, especially as he is forced to watch
others tortured until he decides to renounce.
But Japan, in the early 17th century, seems to be a
religious swampland, where nothing really takes root, except the
incipient Buddhism, which the Catholic priests see as shallow nativism.
This is a long, tortuous look at misplaced zeal on all sides.
We’re set up so that we don’t see a good pathway out, and
neither do the characters. It’s
dark and gruesome, even for people who currently consider themselves
non-believers, it will seem like a nonsensical exercise in monumental
and indefensible stubbornness.
Questions for Discussion:
religions are eager to make more converts, and which aren’t?
one religion have more truth than the others?
would you be willing to sacrifice for your convictions?