Silence (Am I just praying to silence?)

Rating: Severe

silence

Year: 2016
Running time: 2 hour 41 minutes
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tabanobu Asano, Issey Ogata, Shinya Tsukamoto, Yōsuke Kubozuka

Spoiler warning in effect.

Epic is the only way to describe Martin Scorsese’s latest passion project. Epic in storytelling, epic in location and epic in length. Clocking in at over 2 hours 40 minutes, I must admit it was one of the harder films to sit through. But it’s worth it in the end, because you feel like you’ve reached the summit of a mountain. It’s not the ending that counts, but rather the journey it takes us on.

Silence is a religious historic drama set in the 1600s, when Christianity was being outlawed in Japan and there were mass tortures and executions of priests and Christian devotees. It follows the journey of two Portuguese priests, Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupa (Adam Driver), who are determined to find Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), their revered teacher, who has apparently apostatised after being tortured. It’s a harrowing journey, full of danger and treachery, trespassing onto foreign land where they are clearly unwanted by the local authority.

silence andrew adam 2
Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield

The storyline is ambitious to say the least. It’s crammed full of complex layered undertones and issues, that I could never fully discuss and dissect. Religion and race are definitely the prominent issues the film discusses, and forms the foundation of much of the dialogue.

The best part of the film for me was when Father Ferreira finally meets Rodrigues. Here, we see the writing at its very best. It brings up such a deep and layered conversation about religion and God and people’s faith. Do the Japanese truly understand Christianity and the Son of God? Can they ever understand from the same perspective as Western civilisation? Can they fathom a single unitary God-figure? These are the questions Ferreira poses to Rodrigues, after his many years of learning and being integrated into Japanese culture. Has all the pain, suffering and torture been worth it? Has Rodrigues struggles and Garupe’s death been justified, if all along, the Japanese ‘Christians’ are not dying for the same God? I’m not Christian myself and I don’t believe there is a God, so for me, I didn’t any personal offence to these comments. But they are interesting to think about. Here is Rodrigues, a man who has sacrificed his life to teach and spread Christianity, and venture to a hostile land to help his teacher. In a cruel twist, it’s his very teacher that makes him question the meaning and purpose of his life. People may say Ferreira had been brainwashed, that the torture forced him to apostatise, and years of assimilating into their culture had changed him. Possible, but perhaps he reached a higher level of understanding. He was willing to open his eyes to something new and was willing to embrace different ideas. I think that’s the problem with some religions. It asks you to blindly believe in their dogma, unable to question the principles or logic behind it. If you do something wrong, simply ask for forgiveness and your sins will be washed away; salvation rests in higher hands. In my opinion, everyone should be encouraged to examine and question a set of beliefs until they are satisfied it fits their personal ethics. If something doesn’t hold up to your inspection, why blindly follow it? That’s just my two cents.

Obviously written and directed from a Western and Christian perspective, there will be biases in the way history is portrayed. I remember watching Pearl Harbour and seeing Japanese planes being shot out of the sky as easy as pie, while Japanese pilots shot endlessly without taking any American targets out. Or look at any alien/monster invasion movies and you’ll see that it’s America saving the world. In Silence, the Japanese are depicted as barbaric, cruel and a ‘swamp’ where new ideas and religions cannot take hold. I’m not saying this isn’t true but everything should be taken with a grain of salt and both perspectives considered. Both Rodrigues and Garupa fail to embrace and understand the Japanese culture, and attempt to insert a religion without considering the mentality and traditions of a country. While I of course disagree with torturing and killing those who have faiths different than yours, it’s no wonder that the Japanese did not take kindly to these Portuguese priests. There needs to be mutual respect for each other before any progress can be made.

Moving on from the storyline, most of the film takes place in Japan, across several remote villages who still refuge Christian believers. The cinematography is simply stunning and the landscapes will take your breath away. This is what Scorsese has definitely exceled in. If nothing else, this film should have gotten accolades for its visuals and framing. It’s every bit a masterpiece in that respect. Most of the filming took place in Taiwan, with harsh weather conditions making it a real test of endurance for Scorsese and everyone involved. You can also see the attention to detail in terms of location and costuming, especially with the Japanese. Their clothing and appearance are authentic to the time, along with the look of their villages and everyday objects they use. You feel like you’ve transported to 1600s Japan. You can get lost in the scenery, especially with the minimalist scores and complete silence in some scenes. I think the film title is aptly given, not only because silence is a recurring theme in the story, but this is also conveyed through the sound, or lack of. It’s often used to symbolise the silence of God, in that Rodrigues’ prayers are not being heard. There’s something haunting and beautiful about a scene where there is no sound. Sometimes it has a bigger impact than if it had a score running in the background.

The acting however, is the real reason you should watch this film. Every performance was nuanced and authentic. Andrew Garfield was the standout act. This really should have been his Oscar-nominated performance. While his portrayal of Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge incredible, he takes his art to another level here. He maintains the physique of a travel-weary priest subject to harsh conditions, he acts with a convincing accent, but most of all, he plays with the tireless conviction of a man who has surrendered his life to his faith. In every action and word he speaks you can see his character’s devotion and belief, as well as the frustration and anger he feels towards the end, when he feels God is silent to his prayers. Adam Driver and Liam Neeson also give remarkable performances, although Liam only appears at the end of the film. In terms of the Japanese actors, I really enjoyed Yōsuke Kubozuka’s and Issey Ogata’s performances. They play Kichijiro and Inoue Masashige respectively. They play characters on different end of the spectrum, with Kichijiro this bumbling, insecure man riddled with regret and grief from the past. Then there’s Inoue, who is this confident, well-spoken governor that enforces the law. They play each character so convincingly and were a highlight for me.

Overall, I thought the standout points from this film was the cinematography and acting. Both aspects are at the top of its class. The storyline is ambitious, and it does hit some of its marks at different parts of the film. It explores heavy and heady topics that may not be readily accessible to your average movie-goer, but I do commend it for trying something different and pushing the audience to think. I feel there’s a lot to digest and mull over, and its probably a film where you can take away more the longer you’ve thought about it. I definitely discovered a lot of smaller nuances when I wrote this review, that I didn’t immediately think of while watching it. A definite problem with the film was the pacing. It was irregular and the plot often stalled, with the characters not driving the story along. This may be related to the content itself, with many different characters to development and many issues to cover. It’s obviously not the easiest film to watch because of its lengthy running time, pacing, and dark and heavy storyline, but I will say it is still a pleasure to watch Scorsese produce yet another wonderful feast for the eyes that really should have gotten more worldwide acclaim.

Other ratings:
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
IMDb: 7.3/10
Metacritic: 79%

Discussion questions:
1. Did you find the running time too long, or was it justified considering the heavy and complex material it covers?
2. Did you find the content was too religious? Did you agree with the message it was sending?
3. Do you think film should have gotten wider recognition of its efforts?

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