Silence review – a challenging and masterfully made film
‘In the 17th Century, two Jesuit priest’s travel to Japan to find their mentor.’
Martin Scorsese is one of those rare directors who hasn’t really put a foot wrong, and has consistently been making quality films for four decades now. He’s also a very diverse film maker, and although a lot will know him for his gangster flicks, he has tackled a variety of genres; whether it’s horror with Shutter Island (2010) or even a children’s film in Hugo (2011), Scorsese has done it all. When a film of his is coming out, you know it’s going to be an event not to be missed.
In light of that, Silence, based on Shūsaku Endō’s novel of the same name, has been a passion project of Scorsese’s for the past twenty years. Knowing it’s taken this long to make has to make it something special. Fortunately, he doesn’t disappoint, and it marks another solid entry in his filmography. In addition, it’s also a film unlike anything he has made before. Apart from his name being on the credits, there is no other indication that this is his film as it’s very visually and technically distinct to other films of his. It’s a very unique film for him, with the only thing coming close is his 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ.
It will also be an acquired taste, with many being put off by the long runtime and the overly religious based story. If you can get past that though, you’ll be rewarded with a excellently made, and fascinating film which is incredibly layered and thematically rich.
Set in the 17th century, the plot follows two Jesuit priests, Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver), as they travel to Japan to search for their missing mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who it is believed has abandoned the faith. Once there, they face intense persecution on all sides and both their faiths are tested to the limit. It’s certainly not an enjoyable or entertaining film in the traditional sense, and probably won’t receive much love at the Box Office, but Silence is a film that should be watched and appreciated for its fantastic direction, storytelling and performances.
It will be an intriguing watch for many who see this film as it’s set in a time and a culture vastly different to our own. Whereas we live in a society of tolerance and free speech, where we don’t have to worry about physical harm or being tortured for our beliefs and ideologies, the characters of Silence suffer immense persecution for their Christian faith. It’s both a gruelling, and inspiring experience as we watch these people go through unspeakable suffering, but at the same time hold on to their faith.
That’s not to say it isn’t tested, and as the film progresses it becomes clear that Scorsese wants to explore the very nature of faith itself and ask some very deep philosophical questions. Questions like: does it need to be so public, and what right do these missionaries have to come into this foreign land and push their beliefs on a country that already has its own in the form of Buddhism? The title as well has a layered meaning as both priests must remain silent in their faith, in fear of being caught, but it also eludes to the cost of their silence when they refuse to denounce it; not just to themselves but to those around them.
Exploring these deep ideas and themes will require a lot of work from the actors. Fortunately, Scorsese has surrounded himself with an excellent cast, particularly Garfield and Driver who both give amazingly intense and emotional performances. They both bring something different to their roles and express their character’s faith in different ways, with various strengths and weaknesses.
These aren’t unbelievable characters, and they constantly show doubt and uncertainty in their faith. They are vulnerable individuals who don’t just go through physical torment but also psychological as they are mentally and emotionally broken down to get them to deny their religion, and we can see it all on their faces; these are full on, immersive performances.
Liam Neeson also does a great job with little screen time and has just as much impact on the film, especially in that final act. Even the Japanese characters are really well rounded and fleshed out and in particular Yōsuke Kubozuka’s villager who perfectly encapsulates that willing mind but weak spirit all people of faith must feel when going through persecution.
Amongst all these great performances though it really is the character of Rodrigues that we follow from beginning to end and Garfield effortlessly carries the film. He brings such depth and a range of emotions to his character that you feel for him through every moment. It’s an award worthy performance for sure, and it’s through him Scorsese tackles those philosophical concepts of faith as he goes through these psychological games with the Japanese authorities.
If that wasn’t enough, on top of all those great performances and excellent storytelling, it is also a great looking film with some amazing cinematography. Scorsese shows us an authentic 17th century Japan with great detail given, down to the small fishing villages to the more populated towns and prisons, and he also makes good use of the surrounding location. In addition, no shot is wasted and visually, it is an accomplished piece of cinema.
‘Silence is truly a masterfully made film by a director, who, despite being in his mid-70’s, shows no signs of slowing down.’
It won’t be to everyone’s liking, but those who watch it will experience a compelling, dense story that will actually make you stop and think. This film that will surely be counted as one of Martin Scorsese’s most important contributions to cinema and may even challenge your own belief systems and philosophies.
David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.
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