By Christo Stevens, Senior Editor
“I pray but You are Silent. Or am I just praying to nothing?”
This question, asked in a whisper, hovers throughout Silence as we, and our lead character, attempt to grapple with the answer. The film, a long-awaited passion project from legend, master and legitimate superhero, Martin Scorsese is his most spiritual film since 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ. The catholic director has never been quiet about his Faith nor the curiosities and doubts he might have about it. Based on the novel of the same name, Silence gives Marty a chance to ask big questions and paint with broad strokes while giving the audience a substantial amount to ponder, decipher and marvel at.
In 1670 two Jesuit priests—played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver—receive news regarding their once mentor and fellow priest, Father Ferriera—played by Liam Neeson. The priest, who’s now been missing for years, is believed to have denounced Christ after being tortured for his missionary work in Japan. Rodrigues (Garfield) and Garrpe (Driver) set sail with hopes of finding Father Ferriera and saving him from further persecution. The two, relentlessly committed and steadfast in what they believe have no way of preparing for the horrors that lie ahead of them.
The shores of Japan are bathed in fog as the priests arrive to a hushed welcome party of unexpected allies. The two are given a place to hide and asked to preach the gospel to a small local village of secret believers. While their days are spent hidden beneath a shack to avoid capture their nights are filled with fellowship and communions. The priests’ paranoia grows as their presence becomes more and more known. The focus of the film slowly begins to shift to Garfield’s Rodrigues. His faith, seemingly unbreakable, is tested daily as he witnesses the repeated torture of the very people he has been converting into Christians. Rodrigues’ martyrdom becomes the cause of many peoples’ suffering as be battles with guilt, anger and most heartbreakingly, doubt. The shifted focus on Rodriques’ spiritual journey in the second half is awfully challenging. Thematically it’s hard to see what the film is leading to and while it’s conclusion is a tad more on the nose than I expected, I find myself rethinking its complexities and mulling over the many meanings.
Silence could have been a “white savior” story—but it’s more complicated than that. The film’s antagonist comes in the form of a select few Japanese leaders who find themselves in a spiritual war with the priests. For every argument Rodrigues has for Christianity, the Japanese have an equally compelling one against it. It’s an exhausting, painful back-and-forth but the film is all the better for it. Japanese actor/comedian Issey Ogata plays Morii, the main foil for Rodrigues and the cause of so much of his agony. The smile he wears throughout is hilariously villainous as he orchestrates the priests’ suffering.
Silence is less frenetic than most of Scorsese’s other films. The slow-moving shots and glorious cinematography make for a sprawling yet simultaneously claustrophobic journey. People with varying degrees of faith will take away all sorts of themes from the movie. Scorsese isn’t preaching, but asking tough questions. Bound to polarize, Silence is a dense and challenging cinematic experience that asks you to look upward and forces you to look inward.
4 out of 5 stars