Note: This essay was written without a copy of Silence at hand and based off of recollections from two theatrical viewings, hence there may be more inaccuracies than usual.
It is, of course, conceited and undeniably inaccurate to claim that a film serves as an exact mirror to one’s life journey. Both a great movie and a person are inordinately complex, and it is impossible to truly distill either essence into a relatively uncomplicated and accurate summary. But nevertheless I feel a pull, a certain resemblance of my own experiences with faith and doubt in Silence, one that I think deserves some explication before I dive further into the movie’s many complexities.
I was born into a Christian family, and while I have never lived in Taiwan—the country of my heritage, and coincidentally the filming location for Silence—for more than a few weeks, there is nevertheless a strong sense of culture, both secular and nonsecular, that has been instilled by my family and communities throughout my life. I grew up going to church, first in an Chinese church in Seattle (that I am currently attending) and then, when my family moved to Southern California, to Saddleback Church, the famed megachurch. Moving from a small congregation of roughly three hundred to a gigantic conglomerate of twenty thousand had multiple effects on me, some for good and some for ill.
For one, I feel that I arrived at faith and religion early, probably too early. I declared my faith independently around the age of six or seven, and was baptized at the tender age of eight. As far as I can ascertain, most people are baptized as teenagers, and I can’t help but wonder if this early zealotry made my sense of doubt more acute as I grew up.
And I was, regrettably, a zealot of sorts, perhaps too much invested in the letter of the Bible and too little in the spirit. I went on a few medical mission trips with my family, and while I wasn’t necessarily the most interested in them (I’ve never been one for traveling), I did dedicate myself whole-heartedly while I was there. I was far too public about my beliefs and too inconsiderate of others, and only somewhat recently have I felt true remorse about what I did and how I did it.
All of this is to say that I relate strongly to the spirit, if not the letter, of the padres’ journey in Silence. Like them, I have gone through extreme periods of doubt (though mine are based more on the various cultures and communities I’ve been through), but more important is the manner in which this doubt has manifested itself. It does not lie in sudden moments or public declarations, but instead arises internally over a vast period of time. I am thinking specifically of that magnificent interlude, where Rodrigues prays alone on a grassy mountainside, overcome by loss as he tries to search for meaning in his suffering. To a religious person, the absence of God can feel like a total absence of life, and, as I stand now, religion is more than anything a quest for meaning, a desperate and hopefully fruitful attempt to survive in this world, something that I think Silence embraces as well.
Hopefully, I can refrain from this level of personal exorcism henceforth, but this series will be inextricably bound to my various identities. I (and hopefully you) wouldn’t have it any other way.