Silence (2017) 12A
In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) set off to Japan and face violence and persecution as they try to locate their mentor (Liam Neeson) and propagate Christianity.
It's often said that Scorsese's work is defined by his childhood experiences. In an interview, he said that he was raised with them, gangsters and priests, and that he is now both of them. If Goodfellas and Wolf Of Wall Street was Scorsese exploring that, he has left some of the priestly influences behind. It's no surprise that Silence took a quarter of a century to make because, when you boil it down, it's a film nobody would want to confront or acknowledge. It's not an easy film to recommend, either, because there is something deeply subjective about it that makes it a hard film to process.
Garfield and Driver are two Jesuit priests who ask to be sent to Japan to track down their mentor, Liam Neeson, who is rumoured to have committed apostasy - renouncing God and the Church. The two young priests believe it to be a lie and slanderous, and set off for Japan, fully aware that the country is inherently dangerous for outsiders and that many of their kind have been put to death. From the very beginning, it's made clear that Garfield and Driver are zealots and fully believe in their righteousness and we watching know that the film will put this to the test. Yet, even with that foreknowledge, what is shown in the film is so brutal and harrowing that nothing can really prepare you. Garfield and Drive arrive in Japan and are met by locals who have kept their faith a secret from the ruling shogunate. Yet, before long, they appear and begin the process of torturing the locals to either give up those who are Catholics. Driver and Garfield offer slightly opposing views on the subject, with Driver believing that those tortured are defending the church whereas Garfield believes that they should commit apostasy in order to save themselves any suffering. As the story progresses, his beliefs are put to the test in more deeply violent ways than one can suspect.
Garfield's performance as Fr. Rodrigues is electric and easily his greatest on-screen performance to date. It's not just the physical torment he suffers, but also the emotional strain of so much suffering visited upon those he is meant to protect. Yet, for all the suffering he endures, you can't help but watch Silence and not hate him somewhat. Instead of giving himself up, he is making these people suffer on his behalf. When he tells them to renounce God, he refuses to do so himself because his own self-righteousness is such that he cannot allow it. It's a fascinating portrayal by Garfield, filled with nuance and multitudes. Scorsese and frequent collaborator Jay Cocks offer no easy answers to the dilemma, and the eventual fate of Garfield is not an ending that one would expect.
There is no other director but Scorsese who could have approached a topic such as this. After fifty years of directing, there are very few directors who would still have the same passion and fire that he has. It's more closer to The Age Of Innocence or even Kundun, but even that's an unfair comparison. Scorsese eschews his usual aesthetics and editing for a statelier pace of proceedings. There are no tracking shots and certainly no musical interludes to break up the tone or provide a context. The colours are muted, but more often than not, shadows and light play through with a natural beauty to them. Sound design also plays a huge role in the film, with the small sounds of birds chirping doubling as the presence of God. Where the film comes alive is in the performances from Garfield, Driver and Neeson, as well as Japanese actors Issei Ogata, Tadanobu Asano and Yôsuke Kubozuka.
As its core, however, is Scorsese grappling with faith itself, and whether or not God could allow endless suffering if he is all powerful. It's a tough subject and, as you can expect, the film doesn't offer an easy answer to the subject. Indeed, it doesn't offer an answer at all. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating insight into how far belief can be pushed before people break.
Review by Brian Lloyd | 15:29 | Thursday 15th December 2016 | Movie Review
This film really moved the audience when I saw it - I mean it moved them out the door. Rarely have I seen so many people leave the theatre before the film ended. I was going to say this film is slow, but that would be an exaggeration, it never really begins. Okay, I get it that priests are forbidden to be in Japan and the practise of Catholicism is punishable by a scalding hot shower (a bit like the flat I lived in when a student). But that takes up 75% of the film, it becomes repetitious. I'm only focusing on the film here, this is what I went to see. It's another conversation if the film prompts you to admire the stoicism of the Catholics in Seventeenth Century Japan who endured the most brutal persecution rather than renounce their faith. I'm sure Pope Francis must love this film.Posted 12:09 | Sun 8th Jan 2017
I absolutely loved this film. 5 stars from me.Posted 08:59 | Tue 10th Jan 2017
There's a really good film struggling to get out at the heart of Silence. Unfortunately, it takes up only about 10 minutes of the run time of the film that Scorsese has made. When characters are debating the nature of religion, comparing the differences and similarities of Judeo-Christianity to Buddhism, discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of trying to force Christianity onto the Japanese, it's dynamite. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is made up of Spider-Man staring into space, people watching other people from afar, and Jesus literally talking to one of the main characters. It's anchored by not one but two of the most asinine voiceovers since Blade Runner. It's also spectacularly self-indulgent (and I say that as a Terrence Malick fan, so you can imagine how bad it is).Posted 01:44 | Thu 12th Jan 2017
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