Marking the culmination of a decades-long journey to adapt Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel, it’s easy to see why Silence has been nicknamed “the Passion of Martin Scorsese”. The story of the film’s production itself is a tale of suffering and endurance that would test even the most stubborn faith. What makes it to the screen is a test of endurance itself for the audience, a testament to the beauty found in simplicity, and a question of the true meaning of faith (I use the term “faith” here in the most universal sense).
Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (the weirdly watchable Adam Driver) are two young priests in 17th century Portugal.They are told that their mentor, father Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who was on a mission to aid persecuted Christians in Japan, has publically recanted his faith and has now converted to Buddhism. Refusing to believe this, they travel to Japan to find out the truth. What they find is a country where Christianity is outlawed, and anyone found to be practising it is tortured and killed, unless they publicly denounce their faith.
It is astonishing to think that Scorsese’s last film was the over-the-top ode to excess The Wolf of Wallstreet. Where Wolf indulged the viewer with scenes of epic excess (and was criticised for doing so), here Scorsese shows a commitment to showing beauty in bareness and simplicity. Silence is at once an intensely personal, and epic film. There’s plenty of intensity, but no flashiness; a lot of grit, but also several moments of transfixing beauty, where faces are lit by candlelight and no one speaks above a whisper.
Sitting through the scenes of horrific torture is an act of endurance in itself: the no-holds-barred acts of cruelty are depicted with a crudeness that is really hard to watch. The most persistent act of torture throughout the film is the Grand Inquisitor’s attempts to dismantle Rodrigues’s belief.
The film is not without flaws. It runs an incredible 161 minutes, and there were moments which garnered unintended laughter, including one in which Father Rodrigues looks at his reflection in the water and literally sees Jesus staring back. It’s the more broadly-written moments where the film falters.
Andrew Garfield turns in a tremendous performance in a difficult role; Adam Driver, as always, cuts a striking figure, his leanness and angular face reminiscent of a renaissance saint; Issey Ogata, Yōsuke Kubozuka and Liam Neeson also deliver standout performances.
Silence is a thoughtful film about questioning yourself and questioning authority. It is at once intensely personal and epic, and above all an intense and challenging film to watch.
Image source: EOne Films