‘Silence’ Throws Down a Heavy Mental Gauntlet of Faith
Over four decades, Martin Scorsese has proven himself to be one of the most gifted masters at directing today. As of late, crime and corruption have been heavily on his mind with his more accessibly mainstream films, The Departed and The Wolf of Wall Street. However, Scorsese also has a passion for delving into turmoils of faith in such films as The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. With his most recent film, Silence, the concept of passion project takes on new meaning.
Based on the 1966 Shūsaku Endō novel of the same name, Silence is a raw tug-of-war of faith. In the 17th century, a devout Jesuit priest (Liam Neeson) has not been heard from in years since he brought the teachings of Christianity to Japan. One day, a letter is received by his Jesuit pupils (Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield) that states he has denied the Christian faith in public. Garfield’s Father Rodrigues and Driver’s Father Garrpe refuse to believe that their mentor has become an apostate. Together, they travel to this foreign land, bringing their teachings to the locals, while searching for their missing Father.
The two priest arrive in Japan, finding a land where they essentially have to be smuggled into. While Japan is strictly and traditionally Buddhists, priests such as Neeson’s Father Ferreira have attempted to instill Christian teachings on some of the uninitiated. Despite converting many over to Christianity, the religion is outlawed and practiced in an underground movement. Rodrigues and Garrpe learn that all too quickly as they themselves are only allowed to wander at night to perform services under the radar. The shogun turn their visits into the villages into the witch hunt for traitorous converts and instigating priests.
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Silence is undeniably a brutal film, throwing down a physical and mental gauntlet of how far one is willing to serve God. Even for priests Rodrigues and Garrpe, they enter Japan with the sincerest of intentions, but not even the most devout can avoid the clutches of temptation. Their presence alone puts the converts’ lives in danger and have them weighing their own self-serving needs against apostasy and martyrdom. The priests can’t just snap their fingers and turn Japan from a Buddhist state to a Christian one. One character even remarks that they’re dealing with a swamp where foreign things cannot grow. The complexity of the situation is sophisticated with its ambiguous morality. The church teaches them one belief, but they suffer in an ends justify the means type scenario.
Garfield carries his inner turmoil throughout all the stations of Silence. Doing double duty in 2016 between Hacksaw Ridge and Silence, Garfield’s character been through hell and back. It’s a true testament to his craft. Scorsese’s screenplay co-written by Jay Cocks shows no mercy on this journey, depicting what may have transpired in 17th century Japan. Difficult to watch at times, the brilliance of his performance should not go unnoticed. Star Wars alums, Liam Neeson and Adam Driver, are fine in supporting roles. Though Scorsese gives the pair nowhere near the journey that their fellow priest is forced to endure.
At just under three hours, Silence is a challenging experience. It’s not a film to be taken lightly as Scorsese masterfully weaves a tapestry of personal reflection. Witnessing these self-professed good people be tortured and spiritually dehumanized will send chills to even the greatest of non-believers. While religion is in the forefront and may be a touchy subject, this dark side of history transcends its impact. Even if you’re not a Christian and believe in something else, one can empathize with the extremes these characters are being subjected to.
Scorsese paints Silence with a bleak palette of hope. Hope is so minimal that even the visuals and cinematography by Rodrigo Pieto is dismally lit for the majority of the film. It’s beautiful to behold at times, albeit consumed with sadness. Scorsese’s passion project hinges on an experience like no other. Very few films have come close to this sort of impact in 2016.