Given director Martin Scorsese’s film background, which mostly consists of stories centered around crime and gang violence, it comes as a surprise that Silence has been his passion project for 30 years. After numerous legal battles over the years, Scorsese was finally able to make Silence happen. At two hours and 40 minutes, however, Silence is a lot to digest. And while the journey itself is long and tiresome at times, it’s message, told with a great script spoken by an exceptional ensemble cast, makes it feel significant. Though sometimes brutal, Silence paints a beautiful picture of a clash between culture and religion, where characters question the sacrifices they are willing make to keep their faith and driven to the point of expulsion.
Silence tells the story of two Christian missionaries who face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor at a time when Christianity was outlawed and their presence forbidden.
It is quite fascinating when you research Christianity being outlawed in Japan and the lengths priests and residents of the country went to in keeping their faith. Scorsese conveys this troubling time in a place where those that believed in Christianity lived in fear with animosity, as people meet in secret at night and take alternate routes that are hours longer to help spread a message of faith. Some even sacrifice themselves and face cruelty just because they believe someone died for their sins by being nailed to a wooden cross. The brutality and torture shown in Silence might be too much for some, but it is presented to document what history has told us about these unfortunate events.
For the most part, Silence is a dialogue-heavy movie, with most of the topics revolving around religion, including lessons about Jesus Christ, words from the Bible, confessions, and keeping the faith in a dangerous land where religion is outlawed. But where the words of Silence really stand out are when both sides present their case in the argument over Christianity; and, of course, each side thinks they are right. It makes for great conversation after the movie, even for those who are not affiliated with religion. Silence’s tug-of-war between belief and reality is harrowing, but it is also a powerful reminder of how far people will go to stand up for what they think is right.
Andrew Garfield portrays his second character in a 2016 movie centered around faith (first being Hacksaw Ridge) and the results are practically the same: he plays the Jesuit priest Sebastião Rodrigues with conviction and understanding, despite being tested at every turn as he tries to find his mentor. Countering Garfield’s Rodrigues is Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), who plays the role of Jesuit priest Francisco Garupe contentiously and with subtle discernment, as he serves as an interpreter to help his colleague while also performing the duties of spreading the gospel. In a small role, Liam Neeson (Taken) delivers some of the movie’s best dialogue as Father Cristóvão Ferreira, the man the Jesuit priests seek to find. While these well-known actors are great, the lesser-known Japanese actors are the ones that truly shine in Silence. Some of the best performances include Yōsuke Kubozuka as the priest’s guide, Shinya Tsukamoto and Yoshi Oida as villagers, Tadanobu Satō as an interpreter for the Japanese government, and Issey Ogata, the Inquisitor who oversees the persecution of those who seek to spread Christianity in Japan.
When Silence takes a break from tackling the formidable opposition its two leads face, we witness to plenty of striking, beautiful imagery of Japanese countryside. Along with the magnificent coasts lines, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto includes some awe-inspiring shots that focus on the movie’s themes using the symbolism of religious objects. Lighting also plays a key role in showing the significance of the placement of many of these symbols. Prieto also gives us a sense of the inevitable danger by having nature and weather as a tool of foreshadowing. In the absence of music, the sounds of wind and the countryside of Japan provide the backdrop for what we are witnessing on the screen. Even though some people will walk out of Silence not liking it, there’s no denying that the movie as a whole is one of the very best-shot movies of 2016.
Silence is not a masterpiece or one of Scorsese’s best movies. Some precision editing could have cut out a good 20 minutes from the movie and the reappearance of one character gets rather bothersome after a while. But still, Silence is an important movie that helps give historical context to a time and place that is often overlooked on this side of the world. Silence might not be another classic from Scorsese, but it should be appreciated given its compelling, beautifully shot story about how far people will go to spread the word about something they feel needs to be heard – whether it be true or not.