Martin Scorsese’s passion project.
Silence is one of those films I anxiously waited to come to my city, and when it did (for a whopping 6 days), I knew I had to see it. Scorsese might be one of our most important storytellers today. How does a man known for making crime dramas fair in a religious epic? Well, read on.
I am avoiding speaking much of the story, as I think it is something that should be experienced first, then analyzed.
Silence tells the story of two Jesuit priests who go in search of Father Cristovao Ferreira who has apparently apostatized in Japan. The film opens with Ferreira (played by Liam Neeson) witnessing other Christians being tortured for their faith. The objective for the Japanese in this era is to force individuals to renounce their Christian faith. Once we leave Ferreira, it is unknown if he has apostatized or not.
Rumors circle of the apostatized priest, prompting Father Sebastiao Rodrigues and Father Francisco Garrpe (played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) to search him out. Before I continue, when the film was first confirmed with these actors, I doubted that Andrew Garfield had the acting chops to play such a role. Let me say here and now that I am enjoying a nice, large piece of crow. Garfield does a fantastic job throughout the film, which was tragically more or less ignored by the Oscar committee.
Driver is likewise fantastic in the film. The two priests basically go into Japan blind (well, they have a questionable guide), and the danger surrounding them is nearly constant. The beauty of the film unfolds once the priests reach Japan and meet with the faithful. Several moments of small kindnesses show the grace and power that religion can offer. There are scenes that will resonate deeply with almost any viewer. A particular moment where Garfield gives away his rosary (a bead at a time) to let them have some material relic of their faith is one of the most powerful. Who he chooses to give the crucifix to is also an incredibly well done scene.
The film can almost be broken into two halves: the priests helping the faithful, and the faithful being persecuted, which makes up most of the story. The break is not clean, but more so blended slowly so when you realize how deep they are into the persecution, it seems so sudden. Scorsese did well to show the slow creep of repression.
I have noticed on some of the boards asking whether this film is religious or not. The answer is somewhat complicated, as it is a movie about religion, but it is not heavy-handed to the point of denying audience subjectivity. When trying to view the film as objective, there are moments that show the greatness and the weaknesses of religion. As much of a commentary on religion the film, also remarks on structures of power. Does power corrupt? Is singular power a gateway to the repression of others? The film presents the scenarios through beautiful cinematography and excellent dialogue (through which both sides make compelling arguments).
Scorsese seems to have a knack for creating wonderful characters. It is nice that in this film, we can actually root for some of the characters (as opposed to his usual criminals). Each of the people in this movie come off as real. The realness that pervades each scene adds to the power that this highly meditative film already has. One of the most interesting characters is the one I wish to say nothing about, Kichijiro (played by Yosuke Kubozuka) represents so many important elements to the story and to the role of religion. Perhaps I will pen a lengthier essay on his role in time, but for now—watch him closely.
The film is not perfect. I do not know if I would say it is Scorsese’s best, either. However, that is not necessarily a slant against the film, as Scorsese has several classics under his belt. What are the weaknesses of Silence? The final twenty minutes of the film shift tone abruptly and do not fit as nicely as everything else. Further, the film is quite long. Fifteen minutes could have been cut from this with some ease. Fifteen minutes out of a three-hour film isn’t much, but there are a couple moments that are drawn out. Overall, the film is fantastic and powerful. Some have said the violence is too much. I tend to disagree, but I also think that people know their own limits. 9.5/10