THE STORY – Two 17th-century Portuguese missionaries, Father Sebastian Rodrigues and Father Francisco Garupe, make a perilous journey to Japan to search for their missing teacher and mentor, Father Christavao Ferreira, and minister to the Christian villagers they encounter, who are forced to worship in secret.
THE CAST – Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano, Ciaran Hinds, Liam Neeson & Issei Ogata
THE TEAM – Martin Scorsese (Director/Writer) & Jay Cocks (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 161 Minutes
By Matt N.
It seems that for every decade, Martin Scorsese finds a way to bring us a masterpiece. In the 70’s it was “Taxi Driver.” In the 80’s it was “Raging Bull.” Then in the 90’s it was “Goodfellas.” The 2000’s brought us “The Departed” and Scorsese his long-overdue Best Director Oscar. Now in the 2010’s he has given us “Silence.” You may be wondering, “But what about The Wolf Of Wall Street?” Although that film will have a long shelf life and continue to get played by frat boys around the world for years to come, its effect and quality more so matches another film like “Casino” in many ways for me. No, I think that “Silence” is the film that will come to define Scorsese’s career at this stage in his life. It complete’s his faith-based trilogy of films which directly tackle the subject with “The Last Temptation Of Christ” and “Kundun” and also puts an exclamation mark on his entire filmography which has also non-directly tackled the subject matter in various other films within the director’s filmography. Although “The Last Temptation Of Christ” and “Kundun” are both artistically brilliant works with some flaws, “Silence” stands tall amongst the three as Scorsese’s best effort both from a storytelling perspective, an acting perspective and an aesthetic perspective.
Taking place in the 17th Century, two Portuguese Catholic priests Sebastiao Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) learn from Father Alessandro Valignano (Ciaran Hinds) that their mentor Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has apostatized (Renounced the faith) and is living a converted life in Japan. The two priests set off to Japan to find Father Ferreira and if successful, hope to continue spreading their faith over a religiously persecuted Japan. This persecution comes from Inoue Masashige (Issei Ogata), otherwise known as The Inquisitor, who will test the two priest’s faith unlike it has ever been tested before.
The first aspect of the film which needs to be addressed is the pacing of the film’s narrative and how important that is to its themes and cinematic power. Scorsese’s longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, wants us to linger on beautiful shots of the Japanese landscape, or Garfield’s tortured eyes so that we may understand the enormity of the story which he is trying to tell. “Silence” is both an epic film in scope personally and objectively. Shot on location with convincing production design and costumes from Academy Award winner and frequent Scorsese collaborator Dante Ferretti, “Silence” transports us to another time in history where men and women were being persecuted for their beliefs, but the parallels in the story still manage to mirror our own in horrifying ways.
Religious persecution is something that has existed for as long as there has been religion and although “Silence” deals directly with Christianity, the film does an expert job at making this theme resonate for people of different religions, for at the end of the day, when we pray, we all hear the same thing. We hear nothing but silence. It is in that silence (And possibly under distress and a touch of madness) that we may “hear” the words of God speak to us as Rodrigues does a few times in the film. Scorsese never falters in presenting this more spiritual aspect of the story in a serious manner. It does not garner laughs but instead garners intense thoughts through its words and contemplation through its images.
Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto shoots “Silence” with a naturalistic beauty that conjures some terrifying images and also some graceful ones that will not leave your mind for days after a first viewing. The final shot, in particular, is one of the most powerful you’re likely to see all year along with a dozen others including the Inquisitor’s introductory shot through the thick white mist or a dehydrated Andrew Garfield’s face reflecting in the water as Jesus himself. Try as hard as you might, but you will not likely be able to shake off some of the images which you see on screen. This is also in part due to the film’s violence which is not as gratuitous as one may believe. This is not a gory film but there are unsettling images of human beings being tortured in various ways for their faith, many of whom are happy to suffer just as Jesus did.
Rodrigues himself is willing to lay down his own life so that others may live but the Inquisitor is more diabolical than that. He knows that it is more important for a man of the church to give up his faith rather than have the hundreds and thousands of followers do so, in his attempt to purge the Japanese land of the Christian religion. This is one of the central conflicts of the film. Rodrigues must wrestle with the decision to renounce his own faith in order to save others or stay strong in his faith and pray that the Lord will come to his and everyone else’s aid in their suffering. Scorsese takes this decision and epitomizes it in the character of Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka) who many times throughout the film turns his back on the faith and betrays those around him but continuously comes to Rodrigues to confess his sins and seek forgiveness. With each action and confession, Rodrigues struggles with the sincerity of the man’s faith but in turn, learns to understand that staying alive amidst the horror and fear of death is another demonstration of faith. God does not want us to give up our own lives for him for it is within the Christian teachings that we learn he sent his only begotten son, Jesus, to die for us all so that we may not have to. This idea of martyrdom has been twisted and confused over the years to become the religious fanaticism which it is today in our own society and Scorsese instead, is trying to preach to us defiance in the face of that doctrine as a means of love and salvation. How can a film not get any more powerful than that?
This is all backed by a truly terrific ensemble cast of both Western and Asian actors, led by a truly remarkable Andrew Garfield, who gives his most searing and emotive performance yet. Adam Driver, Liam Neeson are also very effective in their supporting roles. Neeson in particular shares some of the best dialogue exchanges with Garfield I have heard in any film this year. On the flip side of that is the Inquisitor, Inoue Masashige who is both horrifying, reasonable and yes, even humorous at times as played by Issei Ogata. His performance is both charismatic and humanistic, as he consistently pleads with Rodrigues to not make him cause any more suffering and instead places the blame squarely at Rodrigues’s feet. Both Tadanobu Asano as an interpreter for Rodrigues and Yosuke Kubozuka as the Judas-like figure Kichijiro are also very effective. But this is Garfield’s show and he knocks it out of the park, despite a wavering Portuguese accent that comes and goes as it pleases.
“Silence” asks some very tough questions and does not always give us the answers which we seek. Sometimes we do not get any answers at all. It’s thematically rich material which legendary director Martin Scorsese has taken 30 years to bring from Shusaku Endo’s best-selling novel to the screen and now that it is finally here, my hope is that people will give it a chance despite it being very un-Scorsese-like and very challenging material both thematically and spiritually. “Silence” is an experience for cinephiles around the world who must approach this movie with an open mind and patience, for the results are not only rewarding, they could potentially be life changing.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – One of Martin Scorsese’s most thematically rich works. Beautiful cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto. A hauntingingly emotional performance from Andrew Garfield backed by outstanding supporting turns from everyone else in the cast.
THE BAD – The length and pacing of the film’s narrative, although important to the film’s messages and themes, may be punishing to those who are more accustomed to the director’s more energized works.
THE OSCARS – Best Cinematography (Nominated)