By: Samar Khan
Nearly 3 decades after his successful The Last Temptation of Christ, Martin Scorsese delivers to us a powerful film about the struggle of one’s belief in their religion with the overarching theme being one that questions the silence of God.
Suffice it to say, Silence is a punishingly powerful film that makes you question everything from human nature to rigidity of faith and is something that needs to be experienced for readers and viewers to appreciate its message. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Shûsaku Endô and chronicles the story of two 17th-century priests who are informed that their mentor that had ventured to Japan had apostatized and left their faith. They travel to Japan to find said mentor and discover the truth and experience the wrath of the Buddhist based populace and the ruthless enforcers who will stop at nothing to drive foreign faiths out of the land of the rising sun. This is the story of Silence.
Let us start with the writing. Scorsese had waited nearly 40 years to adapt the source material of Endô and it shows with the carefully crafted world and dialogue on display. The little of Lisbon, Portugal and the vast quantity of Japan that we are treated to appears to be as genuine as can be, with the visuals and set designs evoking compliments from the marveled audience around me. The dialogue appears period appropriate as well and careful attention was paid to ensure that the Japanese population (which makes up abut 99% of the film’s on-screen characters) spoke in its native language unless the specific character was of a specially high rank or in contact with prior English-speaking Christian missionaries.
The visuals and sound were sublime. Rodrigo Prieto‘s cinematography simply needs to be seen to be appreciated fully, as he managed to capture the world-weary nature of a mentally beaten Japanese population and the relatively easy life of the “God deniers” as a contrast. Additionally, some of the shots of peasants being crucified or burned were simultaneously beautiful and brutal, with the gory nature of the scenes not taking away from how well they were all framed.
The sound, or lack thereof, was exceptional. Let me explain. Normally, films tend to either complement or ruin emotionally powerful scenes with appropriate scores in the background. For a film as dreary as Silence where every scene was used to showcase the futility of resisting the Inquisitors or to emphasize the “silence of God,” it stands to reason that the appropriate use of sound would be to not use it at all. It takes a lot of courage to hope that an audience can stay invested for a 2 hour and 40-minute runtime without music or booming sounds to keep them invested but the bleak silence combined with the questions running through the audience’s minds ensured there was nary a yawn emanated from anyone.
On to the acting and something that I can confidently say will be the highlight of a film for all viewers in a film that is full of highlights throughout. Beginning with the principle lead, Andrew Garfield as Padre Rodrigues, the acting from the burgeoning star set the bar for the rest of the film and ensured that everyone either matched his fantastic effort put forward or surpassed it. Fresh off of the success of the magnificent Hacksaw Ridge (a film yours truly will have on his upcoming “Top 10 of 2016” list), Garfield trades in using his fervent religious belief on the battlefield against the Japanese in World War 2 for attempting to keep his fervent religious belief in the midst of heavy indoctrination and punishment as a prisoner in medieval Japan. Some argued that the film’s lead role should have been given to co-star Adam Driver due to perceived acting prowess but as he demonstrated in Hacksaw Ridge, Garfield has a knack for embracing his characters fully and gets the audience invested in his struggle right from his entrance into Japan.
His aforementioned co-star Driver somehow manages to take Garfield’s already exceptional performance and build upon it further in yet another showcase of why he is becoming considered a Top 10 actor in all of Hollywood. Playing the role of Padre Garrpe, Driver imbues his character with a level of religious fervour that exceeds that of Garfield’s and his more muted struggle and devotion to his faith contrasts nicely with Garfield’s open struggle with the same issues. It definitely helped his case that he lost additional weight on top of his already slender frame and thus embodied the “emaciated Jesuit missionary in a foreign country” almost as perfectly as one can. Truly an exceptional performance and one that may garner some awards acclaim come Oscar season.
The supporting cast was exceptional as well in its own way. Despite a VERY brief amount of screen time relative to his co-stars, Liam Neeson shines as a mortified Father Ferreira, who gives into years of torture and indoctrination and denounces the Catholic Church and attempts to explain away the conversion of previous Japanese as merely having believed in the “SUN of God,” rather than the actual “SON of God.” It was great to see the venerated Neeson take a step away from action schlock such as the recent Taken films and actually focus on acting in powerful films again. The film’s buildup to his eventual reveal was punishing in the sense that they got to witness the atrocities and abuse Garfield and co. experienced just getting to Neeson’s character; thankfully, the writers and actors made the latter’s screen time count.
The Japanese cast was exceptional. E-X-C-E-P-T-I-O-N-A-L. Beginning with Yôsuke Kubozuka, who plays the “serious (yet comical in a sense) and unfaithful to his religion Kichijiro, headlines as one of the main supporting cast members. His character essentially plays one who believes that God will forgive all of his transgressions, no matter how grievous, solely because he seeks to make confession to Garfield’s Rodrigues. Garfield’s character’s frustration with Kichijiro resembles that of the audiences, which is remarkable to witness on screen. Shin’ya Tsukamoto and Yoshi Oida play Mokichi and Ichizo respectively and deliver genuinely heartbreaking performances of poor peasants willing to die for their faith in the most brutal ways imaginable.
Finally, as part of the supporting cast, special mention and commendation goes out to the pair of Issei Ogata and Tadanobu Asano who play the leader of the Inquisitors, Inoue, and his Interpreter respectively. The duo illustrate to Garfield’s Rodrigues what entails the torture of peasants for accepting Christianity and then use reason to demonstrate why the Portuguese priest should renounce his faith. They play upon the fact that God has been silent in answering the pleas of Garfield and Driver’s characters and make the audience openly consider God as either being completely absent or a being capable of cruelty. Heavy, heavy material that is backed by writing capable of supporting the weight of such material.
THE NOT SO GOOD
In terms of complaints, there are but few for the film. The major critique that I had concerned the final 10 minutes which became extremely heavy-handed in nature and tonally turned the film. It could be argued that it ended up dragging the film on for an additional ten minutes but the final sequence did leave more than a few of the audience members around me less than happy with the relatively upbeat conclusion to an exceptionally dreary film.
After all of that, just what did I think of Silence? The acting across the board was fantastic, the sound and visuals equally as great while the plot was sublime for it’s originality in an age of action-filled blockbusters and the depth of its writing. The film ended on this note which has kept me thinking since I walked out upon viewing the credits: is publicly renouncing your faith but keeping it in your heart something to be celebrated or does the public recanting ensure that one has embraced defeat? Watch the film and feel free to let us know what you thought of Martin Scorsese’s emotionally poignant new film.
We here at The Film Lawyers are proud to award Silence with a grade of A+ (9.5/10).