Synopsis – Two priests travel to Japan in an attempt to locate their mentor and propagate Catholicism.
My Take – We all love Martin Scorsese as a filmmaker, right? The man certainly has had a fantastic career with films like ‘Raging Bull’ to ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Casino’, to ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Gangs of New York’ to ‘The Departed’, and the recent ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, making it quite easy to say that Scorsese is & will always be one of the best filmmakers to grace his vision on the big screen (& sometimes small too). While, he has explored various genres, especially violent gangster films, his lasted film comes in polar contrast to his last film, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, mainly as that film was all about indulging in excess and living a very in the world life, this religious epic is literally the complete opposite by exploring religious themes such as faith in the face of oppression, spirituality and the conflict of divine nature and human nature. Director Martin Scorsese has been trying to make this film for over 25 years, but to call it a passion project does not do it justice as this is a story full of brutality and despair without the signature style of the aged director. From being in development hell since 1989, this film with all its artistic endeavors and mysteries has finally released and he has put all he has into it, the good and the bad of the genius that is Martin Scorsese. Martin Scorsese, who explored religious themes and biblical situations in 1988’s controversial “The Last Temptation Of Christ,” visits that genre again, only with a much wider scope and with less scrutiny and condemnation; although he always does not have good things to say about Western powers trying the Christianize Japan in the mid-17th century. Christianity was first introduced into Japan in the 16th century by European a missionary, who at first enjoyed considerable success in winning converts to their faith. After 1620, however, the Tokugawa Shogunate issued an edict forbidding Christianity, following which the Japanese authorities initiated a ruthless campaign of persecution against the new religion. Foreign missionaries were banned from entering the country, and Japanese converts were forced to renounce their faith upon pain of torture or execution if they refused.
The only outsiders allowed to enter Japan were Dutch traders, and they were only tolerated on the strict understanding that they did not attempt to proselytize; Protestantism was no more welcome to the Shogun than was Catholicism. The film is a personal/religious epic, but it’s all about the interior self – an intimate epic, which is always the toughest to pull off. The film chronicles morality in such a way that is staggering and with very few specks of light and it’s practically an anomaly to be released by a major studio with such a budget and big stars. This is a story that comes from history you rarely ever get to see anymore – history from a country like Japan that doesn’t involve samurai (at least how we see them) and dealing with Christianity vs. Buddhism – and it’s directed with a level of vision, I mean in the true, eye-and-heart opening sense that declares that this man still has a lot to say, maybe more than ever, in his later years. Based on the 1966 novel written by Shusaku Endo of the same title as well as the 1971 Japanese film adaptation of the said novel entitled “Chinmoku” (English translation: Silence), the story follows the story follows two Portuguese Catholic priests Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver), who upon being informed by Father Alessandro Valignano (Ciaran Hinds), venture into the hostile country of Japan in search of their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who after his capture denounced his Christian faith in public. Considering it to be false rumors, the two young ministers take the journey to find out for themselves & put an end to the lies once and for all. Upon landing on the shores of Japan (smuggled in on small fishing boats from China), he encounters villages of faithful Christians who worship in secret. For them, the arrival of Rodrigues and Father Garupe is a confirmation of their beliefs, that despite language barriers, it seems that God is always present. As we delve further into the country towards Nagasaki (where Ferreira is said to be held), the two priest break off on separate journeys. Once captured, Rodrigues takes on a Christ-like appearance and begins to see himself as the personification of Jesus. He now must choose between rigidly maintaining his religious beliefs or saving the lives of innocent villagers by surrendering to the audacious Inquisitor (Issei Ogata) by placing his foot on a carved Christian icon known as a fumie, an act tantamount to renouncing his faith. In doing so, Rodrigues thinks about Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka), a convert who continually begs for the Sacrament of Penance after he apostatizes again and again. The issues are further crystallized when Rodrigues confronts the truth about Father Ferreira. This Martin Scorsese film was clearly not designed to be easy on its audience. This is a dark tale of violence and persecution that raises many questions about faith and martyrdom, but doesn’t pretend to have the answers to those questions. This is what makes the film so profound. Those that consider themselves very religious will find sympathy and outrage at the circumstances displayed. Those that are not religiously- minded, or that consider themselves atheist or agnostic, will find it unfathomable that people can treat each other in such ways over religion- or that people would be willing to die for their god. Although this doesn’t mark Martin Scorsese‘s first time tackling on the topic of religion as his first adventure in this subject was ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’, this film does not draw a biblical portrait of the days of Jesus. Instead, it explores a powerful testament on how Christian missionaries have experienced challenges where their spirituality is battered and used as a weapon against them by nihilists who view religion as a philosophical hoax.
And with an inspiring screenplay by co-written by Jay Cooks, stunning cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto (who’s collaborated with Martin Scorcese for a second time following ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’) to capture the overwhelming atmosphere, and an overall enchanting direction; Scorsese paints an emotionally (and visually) arresting picture on two Catholic’s priests’ journey to spread of God while fighting against the mass persecution in a world where religion is outlawed and flushed from society. The story is very gut-wrenching and very complex, but also very slow. The question at the core of the film is “While you may be willing to die for your faith, are you willing to allow others to die for it?” The film does not pretend that there is a right or wrong answer to this question, instead it gives you the results of the decisions made by these specific characters-and allows you to ponder and decide for yourself what right and wrong is, or you may decide there isn’t a right or wrong. In a way, this is Scorsese’s Passion of the Christ, as the characters are put through hell in the name of their faith. It’s nearly three hours of watching people suffer. This is not an easy film to watch. If watching all these people suffering does anything though, it shows the power of faith, and how people cling to their beliefs to the bitter end, willing to endure whatever it takes in the name of what they believe. In this regard, the film highlights both the strengths and weaknesses to religion, and portrays its different followers. It looks at the power of symbolism, while simultaneously looking at the corruption of idolism. The plot moves in a leisurely pace that is enough to drive impatient viewers into utter boredom. Yes, this is a slow paced long film, but the journey to the end is very rewarding. But those who sustain their wills of sitting through the sluggish narrative are offered into a captivating story of pain, loss, hope, and redemption; and Martin Scorsese rarely pulls any punches when igniting the story is life. It is a depressing journey, but unfortunately it is still true to this day. Either way, I don’t believe anyone can leave a viewing of this film unaffected. Every single actor in this film (right down to the extras) is absolutely incredible. Scorsese‘s original choice for Rodrigues was Daniel Day-Lewis, who I am sure would have been excellent; he has been excellent in just about every film I have seen him in. By 2016, however, the director clearly considered that Day-Lewis was too old to play the relatively youthful Rodrigues, so cast a much younger actor, Andrew Garfield. Andrew Garfield, here as our main character and he gives a performance like I never knew he could. His efforts in ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ were admirable but here he actually has substance to work with and boy does he pull it off. As you go through this journey with him you can clearly see what this character is going through just by his physical acting. He is able to show an incredible range and versatility that I have never seen from him. Obviously, his other star roles were mostly in the ‘Amazing Spider-man’ films where he literally had nothing to work with, which is why his performance in this film is all the more impressive. The same goes for Adam Driver and Liam Neeson who not only went through physical changes, you actually feel a bit concerned for their health, but that conviction is shown in their eyes. The Japanese actors are equally outstanding, especially Yôsuke Kubozuka & Issei Ogata whose performance has his own flamboyant way of being ruthless. On the whole, ‘Silence’ is a powerful and impactful religious epic that marks as an enthralling piece of cinematic work from Martin Scorsese.
Directed – Martin Scorsese
Rated – R
Run Time – 161 minutes