Movie Review: ‘Silence’


Plot:  Based on the 1966 historical novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, acclaimed director Martin Scorsese’s latest film tells the tale of Portuguese Jesuit priests, Father Sebastio Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver).  When the two are informed that their mentor Father Critovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has renounced his faith after being tortured, the two set sail for Japan to find Ferreira.  However, their search coincides with the religious persecution of Japanese Christians.  As the two minister to Japanese Christians in secret, their faith is tested, particularly Father Rodrigues.  

 

Review:  My favorite passage in the Bible has always been Matthew 8: 5-13.  It’s the story of Jesus and the Centurion.  Here we have a Centurion, a Roman soldier, a Gentile not of the Jewish faith.  Yet he hears about the miracles of Jesus and implores him to heal his servant.  Not only that, he tells Jesus he doesn’t even need to go to his house to heal his servant.  That the Centurion is not worthy to have Jesus in his home.  However, he expresses total faith that if Jesus says to heal his servant, his servant will be healed.  And so the servant is healed.  It’s the faith the Centurion possesses, rock-solid unshakable faith, that appeals to me.  I wish I had that kind of faith.

I bring the story of Jesus and the Centurion up because it’s the passage I kept thinking about while watching Martin Scorsese’s brilliant film Silence, a deep, introspective, and moving religious drama about the price of faith, love for God, and martyrdom.  It’s no secret that Martin Scorsese has a complicated relationship with religion, specifically Christianity.  Like myself Scorsese was raised Catholic, something that no doubt shaped his views on religion and the world at large.

Like any great artist, Scorsese sought to express these religious views on film.  His first attempt, The Last Temptation of Christ, was one of the most controversial films in the history of cinema.  Numerous protests were held worldwide and almost thirty years later the film is still banned in Singapore and the Philippines.  Scorsese’s contemporary, director Franco Zeffirelli, famously pulled his movie Young Toscanini from the Venice Film Festival line, when the festival refused to pull Scorsese’s movie.  Scorsese’s second attempt, Kundun, focused on Buddhism, specifically the current exiled Dali Lama.  The film (not surprisingly) caused extreme controversy in China, with Chinese leaders threatening the distributor Disney with banishment from China’s market.  Scorsese was even banned from entering the country.

When one considers Temptation and Kundun to be the first two films in loose religious trilogy, Silence is a more than satisfying conclusion.  Several critics have branded Silence an effort in endurance, that one doesn’t so much experience the film as survive it.  I couldn’t disagree more.  From the opening sequence where Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe discuss the fate of their mentor Ferreria, to the final memorable shot, I was entranced.

The term “master of their craft” gets thrown around a lot, but when it comes to Martin Scorsese it just happens to be true.  There’s a reason he’s one of the best directors ever to grace the Earth and Silence is just further proof.  Scorsese is a perfectionist.  Every shot in Silence possesses a meticulousness to it that borders on obsessive.  Despite what you might think about the content, there’s no question Silence is beautifully shot.  Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto sublimely captures Scorsese’s vision.  I particularly loved the repeated overhead shots including the stone stairway walk at St Paul’s College and Rodrigues and Garupe’s sailing into Japan.  The fact that Prieto lost the Oscar (to LA LA LAND of all movies), just proves how much of a joke the Academy Awards are.

Throughout his career Scorsese has always been adept at creating atmospheres in his films.  A slick, live fast/die young vibe comes through in both Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street.  There’s a “golden age of Hollywood” feel mixed with childhood wonder in Hugo.  Even Bringing out the Dead possesses a caffeinated, insomniac dynamic throughout the film.  Silence continues Scorsese’s signature tone. The costumes, the settings, and the look immerses you in 17th century Japan.  It’s rare that you see a film where you feel that the characters could step out of the screen, but it holds true with Silence.

Scorsese constructs his films like a gourmet chef.  Gordon Ramsey would take a vow of silence (pun intended) rather than use plastic wrapped American cheese over a fine Gruyere. In a similar fashion, Scorsese hires only the best, especially when it comes to actors.  And in Silence the acting is of the highest caliber.  Adam Driver’s Father Garupe proves an excellent counterpoint to Garfield’s Father Rodrigues.  Driver’s Jesuit priest comes off more restrained and reserved.  Garupe is the cautious one, hesitant to take chances.  Yet in some ways he’s also the more passionate of the two, especially when it comes to the symbolic nature of trampling on a fumi-e, a crude depiction of Christ.  And although Liam Neeson’s time on-screen is scare, it’s more than effective.  I won’t spoil the reuniting of Ferreria and Rodrigues, but suffice it to say it’s one of the most memorable in the film.  Audiences are used to seeing Liam Neeson in bad ass action roles like Bryan Mills in the Taken series or John Ottway from The Grey.  Neeson’s Ferreria couldn’t be more different.  Neeson brings a vulnerability and empathy to the character that I haven’t seen since his role as Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List.

I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention the stunning Japanese performances in Silence.  Two in particular stand out.  Yosuke Kubozuka is a revelation as Garupe and Rodrigues’ guide Kichijiro, a Japanese Christian who trampled an image of Christ rather than be tortured and put to death.  He’s constantly seeking salvation and forgiveness but always falls short.  Kichijiro’s character is symbolic of the imperfect Christian, one who fails again and again  yet struggles onward.  Issey Ogata also excels as Inoue Masahige, a Japanese persecutor tasked with eliminating Christianity from Japan through torture and execution.  He’s known as The Inquisitor.  Rather than a one-note evil sadist, Masahige portrays The Inquisitor almost as a bureaucrat tasked with a duty.  It’s hard for him to comprehend why the Japanese Christians and priests are so steadfast in their beliefs.  However, you can’t help but sense The Inquisitor takes a certain amount of satisfaction in his work.

Head and shoulders above all of these actors however is Garfield’s Father Rodrigues.  His spiritual journey is one for the ages.  As he delves deeper and deeper into the hidden Christians of Japan his faith becomes tested.  There’s a backhanded condescension about Rodrigues at first.  He refers to the Japanese Christians as living like animals.  Yet he ministers to them with passion and righteousness.  Garfield’s character truly cares about their plight.

Rodrigues sees the El Greco image of Christ before him in his mind (a visage cut quickly into the film several times throughout Silence) and with each trial and tribulation he sees himself as more and more Christ like.  Indeed, Garfield’s physical appearance even begins to take on the shape of Christ.  As time passes and the atrocities committed on the Japanese mount (one gruesome scene has three Japanese crucified on the shores as the tide slowly rolls in to drown them) his human nature shows through and he begins to wonder if he’s praying to Silence.  The question of where is God in a world where there is so much suffering is one that Silence doesn’t shy away from, although (like in real life) there is no straight answer.

A good measuring stick for a great performance is whether or not the character evolves during the course of the film.  Garfield succeeds at this.  Without question this is Garfield’s best performance to date.  I was captivated and felt a real connection between Father Rodrigues and myself.  Not only did Garfield get nominated for an Oscar for the wrong film, his performance in Silence was better than any of the other five nominees.

When people watch movies they do so for many different reasons.  While I enjoy fantasy and science fiction, I also appreciate films that challenge me and make me think.  Silence examines some really deep issues and this is in no small part due to Academy Award nominee Jay Cocks’ masterful script.  There’s a scene between The Inquisitor and Rodrigues that encapsulates the overall social, cultural, and economic implications of Christianity’s expansion globally.  Although the circumstances and time frame are different, the exchange and it’s importance hold true today.  Also I believe the film holds up a true light to what real religious persecution is.  Real religious persecution is having boiling water dripped slowly onto your face.  Real religious persecution is being crucified on a beach as you slowly watch the tide wash in.  Real religious persecution is hanging you upside down over an open-pit and making a slight slice on your neck so that you can watch yourself bleed to death drip by drip.  Would I have the ability to resist such trials?  I honestly don’t know.  I would hope so.

Once again Scorsese has delivered audiences a profound and entertaining piece of film.  Don’t miss it.

 

My rating System:

0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
3 Bad
4 Sub Par
5 Average
6 Ok
7 Good
8 Very Good
9 Great
10 A Must See

 

My rating:  10/10

 

 

 

 

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