BWW Review: SILENCE is a Solemn, Understated Study of Faith
Over the four-plus decades of his filmmaking career, Martin Scorsese has never shied away from looking at the brutal realities of people dealing with questions of faith and morality. In his latest film, SILENCE, which is in theaters nationwide, Scorsese unspools a two-hour-and-42-minute rumination on what it means to be faithful and to search for redemption, even when everything in your physical world is telling you to give up.
An admitted "lapsed Catholic," Scorsese's SILENCE follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests, played by Tony and recent Oscar-nominee Andrew Garfield and Broadway alum Adam Driver, as they travel to 17th Century Japan in search of their mentor, played by Tony-nominee Liam Neeson. Reports are that after a crackdown on Christianity in the country, Neeson's Father Ferreira has apostatized and renounced his Catholic beliefs.
Unwilling to believe that the man who trained them in the faith would abandon it, Fathers Rodrigues (Garfield) and Garupe (Driver) set out to find the truth.
Based on the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo entitled "Chinmoku" (which translates to "Silence"), both the book and film find inspiration in the real Italian missionary, Giuseppe Chiara. At this time in history, Christianity has been outlawed and Japanese inquisitors are traveling to towns throughout the country to ferret out hidden believers; often making violent, public examples of those they find.
Upon landing in the bleak, but beautiful Japanese countryside, Rodrigues and Garupe are protected by a village that prays in secret and under the cover of night. This village, like many others, has been longing for a priest to hear their confessions. While the faith of these people, and others in neighboring villages, encourages them, the priests know that they must continue to search for Father Ferreira, no matter how dangerous it might be.
Looking to balance their responsibilities to their untraditional congregations as well as to their mission, the priests split up, hidden by and serving different villages. This leads to each spending most of the daytime hours hiding alone, and results in long stretches of literal silence, devoid of anything but subtle ambient noise. The gentle chirping of crickets offers an alternately calming and foreboding underscoring in the film.
Along their journeys, both priests are forced into unimaginably heartbreaking situations, as after they are discovered, they are forced to watch their Christian brothers and sisters be tortured. If the Portuguese priests do as their mentor allegedly did, the inquisitors will let their Japanese captives go. If they do not, they will continue to be tortured in increasingly prolonged and inhumane ways while the priests are forced to watch.
Large segments of the film are in Japanese, with English subtitles, and others feature Garfield delivering probing monologues mediatating on his faith and responsibilities to both his God and his followers. Father Rodrigues must decide for himself whether the most Christian course of action is to cling to his faith and accept the consequences, however painful and deadly they might be, or to remain silent and sacrifice himself for the betterment of others.
Despite the heavy themes woven throughout the film, Scorsese and co-screenwriter Jay Cocks include occasional moments of humor, many of which come from Issey Ogata, who plays the inquisitor, Inoue Masashige.
Ogata delivers one of the most compelling performances in the film, and provides an interesting counterpoint in the theological discussions that he has with Garfield's Rodrigues. Though much of the film's messaging is a bit ham-handed, the honesty that all involved bring to their roles helps deliver the story with a human sincerity.
Shinya Tsukamoto delivers another standout performance as Mokichi, a believer who helps the priests, but is never able to display the commitment that those around him do.
The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, coupled with Scorsese's direction, provides much of the film's power. The lush Japanese landscape is placed in sharp contrast to the stark and barren lives that the "hidden Christians" live. The shots and scenes are beautiful, but unfortunately, don't help the narrative to arrive at any specific perspective. While films, especially those that deal in personal faith and morality, don't need to spoon-feed their audience, SILENCE instead feels more like in telling its story, the filmmakers have taken the easy way out by not saying anything at all.
In SILENCE, the characters are thrown into a perpetual cycle of suffering, praying, and repenting. Unfortunately, since Garfield's Rodrigues does most of this in isolation, it is difficult to feel the full weight of the crisis of faith into which he is forced. However, he still delivers a powerful performance, full of anguish, rage, and conviction.
Check out the trailer for SILENCE:
SILENCE starring Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano, Issey Ogata, Ciaran Hinds, Yosuke Kubozuka, Yoshi Oida, and more opens nationwide today. SILENCE is rated R for some disturbing violent content.
Banner Image: Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures