The story of two Catholic missionaries who face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor – at a time when Catholicism was outlawed and their presence forbidden.
In the past 6 years and throughout most of his career Martin Scorsese has juggled many different genres and created great films out of them. We’ve had Shutter Island, Wolf of Wall Street, Hugo and none of these films shared a common theme. Now at the age of 74 Scorsese has released his passion project, Silence, a film he has been trying to make for 25 years. This is for Scorsese what Tree of Life was for Malick, a deeply personal film that will divide critics and audiences who become polarised by the self-indulgent Scorsese. Running in at 169 minutes this is not an easy watch but its a rewarding film that plays on the directors life long struggle with faith. This isn’t the gangster Scorcese film you might be expecting, instead we get a film more like Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ. He has joined the ranks of legendary film makers such as Carl Theodor Dreyer, who became an auteur through his faith-based films such as Day of Wrath and Ordet. Silence on the other hand is more straight forward than the list of films on faith I could list, it displays a struggle that many people (religious or not) have experienced.
Much like Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, Scorsese utilises the historical backdrop of 17th Century Japan with Silence. Some of my favourite scenes of the film focused on the cinematography and day-to-day life of people living during this time period. However, the historical aspect always remains a backdrop and that was my main problem with the film. Personally I wish there was more history behind this era but I can see the directors intention to make this more of a character study. Based on Shusaku Endo’s novel, Silence is about two Jesuit missionaries (Father Garrpe and Rodrigues) who travel to Japan during the time Christianity was outlawed in Japan. The film opens with a letter detailing the life of a missing and apostatized missionary in Japan called Father Ferreria. He went to Japan to spread the word of christianity but in turn gives up his religion and takes up a Japanese wife and lives a Japanese life. Two young padre’s who were mentored in the faith by Father Ferreira refuse to believe his apostatization so they travel to Japan to rescue him. The films pace at the start doesn’t ever seem to be a problem, after this brief opening scene the story immediately moves into China and then Japan. All the characters in Silence are binary oppositions of each other, you have those willing to die for faith, those losing faith and those with no faith at all. These contrast of characters starts to create an arguement surrounding the question of faith itself.
As soon as the padre’s reach Japan they are taken to the tiny village of Goto by the mysterious Kichijiro, who smuggled them into the country. Here Scorsese shows the audience what the aftermath of 20 years of Jesuit persecution has done to Japan. The last remnants of Christianity still lingers in this city and they welcome the padre’s with open arms. However, the paranoia and uncertainty of what was around the corner is quite apparent. For a country based film the camera is quite confined, we got luscious cinematography of the views the padre’s see from their isolatation but it still feels confined. During the night they hold mass in secret for the villagers, but everyday they are confined to their shack and this claustrophobia is displayed perfectly by Scorsese. Silence becomes a tough film to watch at the end of the day because of the torture the Christians had to go through for their faith but it also showed me the strength some people receive from their faith. At various times during the films it looks as if both Father Garrpe and Rodrigues both lose their grip on religion as their journey to Japan becomes the biggest test of their faith. The film plays with human torture and as you reach each point of the film you still know there is more danger to come. Silence never reaches a peaceful resolution until the end and it leaves you anticipating more violence as the film progresses. Scorcese uses all these little details from the claustrophobia to the excessive violence to recreate the Christian fear in Japan within the audiences.
Earlier in the film’s production we had a stellar cast attached to Silence with Daniel Day-Lewis, Gael Garcia Bernal and Benicio Del Toro attached to play the padre’s. Instead we were given a film without these names attached and it still worked perfectly. Replacing Bernal we have Andrew Garfield who gives a career defining performance with Silence but I have yet to see Hacksaw Ridge. This is a film about expressing emotion without the use of words, in a world where English wasn’t a core language. Coming from Spider man, Garfield is a big name blockbuster actor but in this film he became Father Rodrigues and he portrayed his characters fluctuating faith. Adam Driver was another character who impressed me though he didn’t get enough screen time compared to Garfield. Playing Father Garrpe he perfected the look and speech of the role, my main tripe with Garfield was his accent breaking at various points of the film but Driver manages to maintain authenticity throughout. His pivotal scenes come during the time he and Rodrigues are trapped in their shack losing patience from his isolation. As I mentioned above these themes of isolation and fear become an important part of the films narrative. Liam Neeson also gave a good performance as Father Ferreira but his character was never given enough screen time to become a substantial role. However, his character relies on the films narrative as he becomes the mysterious enigma Silence tries to unravel. One of the most surprising performances came from the Japanese cast as they brought something fresh to the story compared to the standard Hollywood cast. Playing Kichijiro you had Yosuke Kubozuka who became a representation of the misinterpretation of failed ideologies that were presented to a country who were former Buddhists. He displayed the failed side of the Christian faith in Japan, a man so destroyed by religion that he is lost in a psychotic limbo between faith. Another great performance came from he films antagonist, another enigmatic character the Inquistor, played by Issei Ogata. As the character that everyone feared throughout the film he surprisingly brings comedy and knowledge to his character. A trait that adds subtle comedy to such a hard-hitting and emotional film.
Some people have called this Scorsese’s Homage to Akira Kurosawa but I found this to be an original passion project. This wasn’t a samurai western, this was a historical lecture into Christian persecution. However, the film sparks the question of faith in its audiences, a search for validation of God’s existence. Silence becomes the most meaningful name for the film because its core is based on God’s silence as our prayer’s go unanswered and as innocent people die for their faith. Using his perfected directional abilities and working with Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography Scorsese creates something quite profound and unique. He assesses and analyses the Human psyche, how our mind handles our own weakness, pain and fear. Sure this film becomes self-indulgent as Scorsese lingers on shots and ideas but its this indulgent behaviour which makes the film more human and natural. We as an audience sit back and try interpret the psychological trials the films portrays and even as a man not involved with religion I found myself personally invested with Silence. Some problems held the film back such as the overbearing editing and the rushed final act but it was still one of Scorsese’s best pieces of work since Raging Bull. Silence is a culmination of Scorsese’s life long battle with faith and at 74 years old he has finally created his most thought-provoking personal film.
Final Verdict – 9.0