Silence (Martin Scorsese) - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
MARTIN Scorsese’s Silence is a test of faith on many levels. It challenges the sacrifices that people make for religion, as well as the notion of faith and blind devotion. And it feels highly relevant to events happening in today’s world despite being set in 17th Century Japan.
But it’s also a test of faith as a film; faith in Scorsese as a filmmaker capable of putting you – the viewer – through an endurance test without necessarily offering anything in the way of hope or entertainment.
Silence is an epic achievement. But it is one to be approached cautiously. It can be viewed on many levels. Devout Christians may eulogise over the way it showcases hardship without over sensationalising it, while also commending it for showing just how resolute faith must be in the face of diabolical persecution.
And yet atheists and the more sceptically inclined could just as easily latch onto it to show just how much of a folly the pursuit of religion can be, whether its the Christians, or Jesuits, who seek to bring their Catholic faith to Japan in the face of mass torture and death, or the Japanese authorities who will stoop to anything to prevent Catholicism, or Christianity, from taking hold. Certainly, the film succeeds in showing how atrocities are regularly committed in the name of religion.
If you’re entering merely to be entertained, as a fan of great cinema (or certainly the type of intelligent cinema that Scorsese is renowned for), then you may well leave feeling battered, bruised and psychologically beaten. It’s a long, hard, gruelling watch that offers no easy answers or feel-good conclusions. It lingers, even haunts, but it could just as easily frustrate and annoy given the hardships it depicts.
I have to confess to feeling a mixture of all of the above. Silence is an easier film to admire than it is to like. And that makes it difficult to recommend.
Based on the 1966 novel of historical fiction by Japanese author Shūsaku Endō, Silence follows two Jesuit priests, Father Sebastiao Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) as they travel to 17th Century Japan in search of their mentor, Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has gone missing, presumed either to have perished at the hands of his Japanese inquisitors, or committed apostasy and converted to Buddhism.
What they find is a muddy, violent Japan where Christians are forced to practice their faith in the shadows, fearful of being caught and tortured or killed in the name of their God. Initially, the presence of Rodrigues and Garrpe brings hope. But once the two men are captured, each finds their faith put to the test as they are forced to watch on as others are sacrificed until they also denounce God.
Predominantly told through the eyes of Rodrigues, the film also introduces us to several key Japanese characters: most notably Yōsuke Kubozuka, as the Judas-like Kichijiro (a man constantly at odds with his own faith and who requires near-constant forgiveness); Issei Ogata’s grand inquisitor and Tadanobu Asano’s wily Interpreter, who torments Rodrigues with his insights and observations.
The performances, as we’ve come to expect from any Scorsese production, are universally strong, with Garfield bringing a quiet power and grace to his Rodrigues that guides the film well. We view the events through his struggle.
But this, in turn, means there’s less of Driver and Neeson, whose presence is missed for long periods, particularly when Scorsese opts for lengthy ‘trials by torture’ – an extended sequence involving crucifixion in the tidal sea is particularly gruelling. And as effective as Kuozuka is in the role of Kichijiro, there are times when his use comes dangerously close to parody.
The length of the film is also a problem, with fatigue setting in a long time before the film approaches its sombre, low-key conclusion. One wonders whether Silence might have been a more potent film had it been edited a little more sharply.
Hence, as intriguing and thought-provoking as Silence undoubtedly remains, it’s very much a flawed piece of work that could well struggle to find much of an audience beyond the devoutly religious.
See Martin Scorsese’s films on the big screen as part of BFI’s Scorsese season and Scorsese-curated screenings of restored classics throughout January and February at BFI Southbank.
Running time: 2hrs 41mins
UK Release Date: January 1, 2017