Film Review: Silence

Silence sees Martin Scorsese wrestling with faith, what it means to have it, how it affects those around us, how it can feel like it has betrayed you, and the results are compelling and thought provoking.

Set in the late 17th century, Silence is set against the backdrop of the Buddhists leaders of Japan are revolting against the spread of Christianity across their nation. The teachings of Jesus were brought from Europe by the growing trade market to the country, as priests entered the country and started converting the peasant class into the faithful. We pick up with some of the last western priests being tortured to death and hundreds of thousands of Japanese Christians having been killed off over the last decade or so. When news from a leading mentor in the Portuguese church, Father Ferreira, reports the dire situation in Japan, along with a report of his apparent apostasy, two young priests set out to Japan to seek the truth. Upon arriving to Japan, Father Rodrigues and Garrpe quickly discover the situation there to be treacherous and their worldview is put into serious question.

Scorsese is adapting from a novel of the same name, which had been previously adapted in the 70’s, and he sticks with our young priests as they encounter everything from hidden villages full of Christians to brutal torture, persecution and murder of individuals because of their presence. To say their faith is being tested is an understatement, and after Scorsese firmly lays the groundwork for the setting and stakes of Japan for Christians, he begins having a conversation through the film about what all of these feelings of faith mean.

Why can’t two faiths co-exist? What makes one better than the other? Is it wrong to hold your faith above others? Is there an entitlement to the priesthood? What do you do when God shows you nothing when all you do is pray for an answer? Should you sacrifice your faith to save the persecution of others? How is faith abused by its followers? Is being Christian just an endless persecution? What happens if your faith is destroying you? Do you have to completely reshape your faith to remain faithful?

Scorsese gives you so much to chew on and think about, no matter your theological feelings. This is a film that can be interpreted a multitude of ways, whether you are shaking your head that all of this death and suffering is happening over something that doesn’t exist or that God will test you in the most challenging and unimaginable ways if he must. Scorsese firmly finds himself in the middle, playing devil’s advocate, as he beautifully and hauntingly shoots the hell out of this film. The mood of Silence is dour and Scorsese will leave a number of haunting images seared into your brain after viewing.

Andrew Garfield is the film’s lead in Rodrigues and he does a fine job of portraying the overwhelmed and outmatched priest. Not to get into spoilers, but things don’t go the best for Rodrigues and Garrpe, and Garfield does an excellent job of conveying all of the emotional and physical pain endured by the priest. The hope in his eyes at the start of their journey, helping the hidden Christians, is palpable, but so is the horror as things grow more and more dire as time goes on. The rage Rodrigues feels is felt, but Garfield never lets you forget the faith at the core of him. Adam Driver is also very good as Garrpe and an excellent counter to Rodrigues’ optimism. Garrpe is the more cynical of the two and Driver is able to sell the doubt surrounding their situation while, like Garfield, always remains believable as a man of true belief. Driver doesn’t have nearly as much screen time as Garfield, but his presence is felt every time he comes onto the screen. Liam Neeson steals the film, playing Ferreira, and when he enters the third act of the film he just takes things over. He plays it calm and quiet like Neeson can do, but he destroys Rodrigues and everything he thought he knew about his faith. These scenes and conversations between the two took the film to another level for me, especially coming after the film’s draggiest section.

Yoshi Oida is charming and warms your heart as a local “priest”, Ichizo, at the first town the young Padres visit and you’ll find yourself drawn to him in every scene there. Yosuke Kubozuka plays the always lingering Kichijiro, who plays a very tragic figure in the film. Kubozuka is so manic and sad in the part, totally fitting the life Kichijiro has lived. Kichijiro is a conversation starter for the film, as one could probably write a whole essay just about him. Shin’ya Tsukamoto plays another townsman, Mokichi, and while he only has a couple of scenes, you care about him so much; and you won’t soon forget his final moments in the film. Issei Ogata plays the Inquisitor hunting down the Christians in the film and, somehow, does bring some levity to the film. He is giving an odd performance, but he remains threatening even though his old, shambling ways are kind of endearing. It is a strange role for a film like this, but it works. Finally, Tadanobu Asano plays an interpreter assigned to Rodrigues, and he too is kind of charming and terrifying all the same. Asano is so good at snapping between anger, shaming and pleasantness, it is a skilled performance that he makes look easy.

Silence is not a film for everyone. It is long, there are no action scenes and it asks you to think about the very interesting conundrums of faith, but Scorsese pulls it all together beautifully if are ready to engage with it. The film can make you feel hopeful, terrified and tense, and it looks as good as any film to be released in 2016. Scorsese is one of our living masters and he has created another excellent film in Silence.

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