Well, this was sobering. But I’m not sure what I think of it…
In the 1600s two young Catholic priests journey to Japan, seeking their mentor who has apparently been converted from the faith during his work as a Christian Missionary. They journey however, becomes more like a battle of beliefs.
Director Martin Scorsese is known for his gangster movies and hard thrillers and dramas, such as Goodfellas, The Departed, Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street… you might not see any of his signature style in this bleak, morose dive into faith and both the cruelty and support it can bring upon the helpless. But apparently he has wanted to make this film for over twenty years! The project was delayed due to financial issues, but it has been in the works since 1990.
So it has got to be good right!?
Straight off, I will say I am not religious at all, but I am always open-minded to the beliefs of others. Silence is not a film I can recommend to anyone. You should maybe research it thoroughly before paying admission. This is a slow and quiet and sorrowful experience, it isn’t silence in name only, there’s virtually no music, scenes with only a few spoken words often which is voice over monologues. Because of this, I found myself hearing every sound from the audience and frequently the film playing in the other cinema through the wall! It is a somber and often brutal endurance.
Starring Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Liam Neeson (Taken) it is a strange mix of casting for western actors. Garfield plays Father Rodrigues, who is the wiser of the two young priests, Driver is Father Garrpe. Honestly, I felt these two actors should have been in swapped roles. From the moment you see them on screen Driver is more compelling and believable, Andrew Garfield, despite carrying nearly all of the film himself, never really worked for me. It really felt like casting for the sake of a Christ analogy.
Neeson… come on. This is a Scorsese film and he still gets typecast!? This is ridiculous.
The casting is probably the bitterest pill I had to swallow with Silence, and perhaps the film’s length; it does deliberately want to feel arduous and taxing… but I don’t think anything would have been lost in shaving a good twenty minutes off.
But what the film does right is the representation of faith and belief in both their subtly and their consequences. At first, this film felt like an assault on Christianity, in fact much of the film feels that way: the missionaries are represented as hunted men, those who follow them are killed, even the priests themselves struggle with whether their work is good or not! Then there’s Kichijiro, played by Yôsuke Kubozuka, easily the best thing about this film. A wild, unwanted man who appears to be hounding after Father Rodrigues to continuously repent on sins he continually carries out, as if mocking the faith and what the priest believes in.
But the film is not that simple. In fact when everything is said and done, the “winner” of this battle of faith is not so apparent. Incredibly the film does much in representing this battle purely through psychological means and not physical fights, which is probably its greatest strength!
Despite all of its scenes of brutality from the Japanese inquisition, the cruel destruction of people’s beliefs and the blatant stupidity and narrow-mindedness from religion (on both sides) at the time, I came away from it… somewhat enlightened. The film speaks about the strength of faith against all odds.
Overall, if you like religious epics, especially stories of human frailty and depravity, I would suggest you seek it out. But it is an extraordinarily quiet film, so watching it in public is probably a bad move as you will have audience members not enjoying it. The casting could have been stronger, the film could have been shorter, but all in all I did appreciate the storytelling!