Bizarre. Sort of a Platoon directed by Akira Kurosawa. Or The Mission meets The Revenant. Or maybe Unbroken merges with The Mikado. I assume every film director has a point to make, but darn if I could figure out what Martin Scorsese was up to. It seemed to me he was condemning the role of missionaries – maybe a parable about America in Iraq? – but then why did he make the Japanese such creative torturers? (Each set of Christians got killed in a gruesomely different way.) Or just because we are Christians, were we expected to identify with Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver on their mission to Japan, whatever it was, even though they were hopeless naifs rather than potential game-changers?
The scene where Liam Neeson confronts Garfield was particularly astounding. They didn’t seem to belong in the same movie, and you wished the director had been following Neeson instead of wasting our time with Garfield’s comic-book story (viz., the scene of Garfield and the miscast Driver peeping through the bushes as their flock members were crucified). Was this a meditation on Faith? or Situational Ethics? The burning question was WWJD? Should you renounce your faith if that act will save some peasants’ lives? Or are they better off in Paradise anyway? It’s one thing to give up your life like the martyrs of old, but what if the Inquisitor changes the playbook and starts killing others in your place?
The underlying problem here is the emptiness of the Faith that Garfield is embodying. There is nothing to suggest it is in any way superior to the Buddhism (unexplained) that the Japanese prefer. In the few theological discussions presented, it seemed to me that the Inquisitor and the Neeson character had the better argument. A system of worship that grows out of a people’s culture is surely more efficacious than one imposed from an alien world. Garfield’s inability to reason, his total reliance on dogma, made him less interesting and made the movie worth watching mainly for its cinematography.