Spanning the ages and ages of Christian mission work, it has often been argued that the propagation of Christianity was an arrogant attempt by Europeans to control the world by unifying it under one predominate religion. Sponsored missionaries set out, mostly under Spanish and Portuguese flags to the different continents to proselytize non-Christians.


Trade agreements were reached with emperors and warlords granting permission to teach the peasants about Christianity and to eschew native beliefs. In many cases, missionaries reached pacts with local militaries to help enforce the Christian conversions. The primary goal of Christopher Columbus' expeditions were find trade routes to India so they could spread Christianity. But once in North America, natives were basically forced to accept or die and Christianity took root. This worked in South America as well.


The concept finally made it to the East with missionaries finally reaching India and then Japan, which was in chaos at the time with strife between shoguns and the Emperor. Taking advantage of the chaos, Christian missionaries headed by Francis Xavier - having had some success in India - developed what they thought was a foothold in Japan with an eye on moving to China. The goal was ambitious and was met with dire consequences.

Director Martin Scorsese once again delves into his bag of Christian challenges, much as he did with his highly controversial "The Last Temptation of Christ" in 1988. Christians scoffed at the idea that the savior had earthly lustful desires! It has been said that their dislike of the film is why Scosese's "Goodfellas" failed to net the great director an Oscar in 1991. It will be interesting to see what the reaction will be to this latest film.


"Silence" describes the trials the Portuguese missions faced when feudal leaders of Buddhist Japan insisted that Christianity was dangerous and illegal. It describes the Japanese version of an inquisition where Japanese who had converted to the European religion were tortured and executed unless they apostatized.


The story revolves around two missionaries in particular, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) who set out to learn the whereabouts of their mentor priest - Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who went missing fifteen years prior. They are aware of the persecution and warned of the dangers, but set out determined to discover his fate.

They gain the assistance of a native Japanese "Christian", Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka) who leads them to one of the hidden Christian villages dotting the country. There, they are welcomed with open arms until the town is visited by the Inquisitor Unzen Samurai (Kaoru Endo). As the priests hid from sight, they watched as some of the villagers were tortured and killed for not denouncing Christianity. Only one, Kichijiro did and he was released. He goes on to become a recurring gag, as it were.


After splitting up to search for Ferreira, Rodrigues is captured by inquisitors and is once again faced with watching once hidden Christians tortured and killed for their belief. The bargain on the table is a reprieve for the hidden Christians if only Rodriguez denounces his faith. He refuses even as the Inquisitors begin to tell him of the fate of Ferreira. The Inquisitor is a master at his craft and you will appreciate his principles even while he persecutes his own people.


Herein lies the question as to whether "Silence" is a film about faith, a film about Christian arrogance and imperialism, a film about human survival, or a film about some really neat torture techniques. It will be the topic of many arguments, no doubt. But it is clear that it is an editorial on Christian propogation outside Europe and an undesired consequence in Japan.


As with any Scorsese film, the photography is brilliant and the pacing - despite what seems like non-active scenes - is spot on. Adam Driver's gaunt look works so well against Andrew Garfield's more soft-chiseled look. The Japanese costuming is impeccable. Liam Neeson's role might remind you of Marlin Brando from "Apacolypse Now" sans a shaved head.


Oh, but the film comes in at a hefty two-hours, forty-minutes and lacks a soundtrack, so make sure you have your caffeine handy.


"Silence", while not a cinematic breakthrough is a thoughtful, well-done examination of proselytism. It explores beyond the ending of Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto", the propagation of Christianity in lands that already have established religions.   -- GEOFF BURTON