From the moment Silence begins, there’s a sense of curiosity in the air. You almost feel like a scholar, studying each angle director Martin Scorsese takes, the looks in Liam Nesson‘s eyes — oh, and the torture that’s taking place with scalding water being poured over practically lifeless bodies on what is supposed to mock a wooden cross.
Silence surrounds two Jesuit priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver), who seek their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Nesson), after learning of him being captured in Japan. Why? Well, Buddhism’s roots runs deep in Japan and if there’s any hint of Christianity propagation, you’ll be forced to surrender your faith or die. Ferreira happened to be on a missionary trip when the Inquisitor, Inoue Masashige, learned of Christianity being brought in by the priest. Horrendous acts of violence were committed against the priest and his company unless they apostatized. This takes us to the duo of Rodrigues and Garrpe, who set out for Japan and begin their journey.
Scorsese is a master of his craft. At this point in his career, any film he directs is must-watch cinema. With this film adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s novel, Silence doesn’t pull any punches. From the moment Rodrigues and Garrpe began their trek towards Japan, you could hear a pin drop in the theater.
This is quite an ambitious film by Scorsese, but it’s not to say he wasn’t up to the task. Religious films, like Silence, can be heavy for many who believe in either Catholicism or Christianity, but, thanks to the nice chunk of time spent during the first act, we grow to attached to Garfield and Driver.
The contrasting relationship between the two as they seek out Ferreira is on full display once they step on Japanese land. Garfield embodies Rodrigues, a priest that strictly follows the teachings of the Bible and never strays from his faith in the darkest of hours. Driver embodies Garrpe, the priest who leans to his humanly understandings from time to time. Driver’s role is otherwise bland as a sidekick of sorts, but he embellishes it, making the most of his screen time. However, Silence didn’t include much of Driver once the second half of the film began. In the nature of full disclosure, I haven’t read the novel, but it is a slight shame that the movie clearly screams out to the audience, “These two are separating,” and never sees fit to mention much of Garrpe’s separate journey.
In yet another example of their contrase, a sequence takes place in a hut where both priests struggle with the right decision based on their faith practices. They continue to shout at each other as time passes, one trying to convince the other. Diving deeper into the scene, Rodrigues represents what’s preached throughout churches, while Garrpe begins to doubt whether God is working in his life. This is a moment that can be used to describe religion in today’s world, with those that believe in God and those that do not.
With credit to Garfield, his performance grew on me as the hours passed. There’s a humane relationship the audience develops with Rodrigues. In times of despair, the film succeeds in asking the question, “What would you do in this situation,” then giving you the outcome of the answer made in your head. Most of these outcomes aren’t so … easy to digest, but you gotta keep rolling with the punches for two hours and 41 minutes.
Stepping aside from the actors for a moment, the cinematography was arguably the most impressive I’ve seen in 2016. Rodrigo Prieto is a magician behind the lens, carefully sculpting each landscape shot that displays the towering mountains of Japan and making sure to nab each facial movement in times of great tension between characters. It’s to no surprise that Prieto painted this beautiful picture. His body of work includes The Wolf of Wall Street, Argo and Amores Perros.
The length of this film allowed for an almost complete fleshing out of each main character, while making room in your heart for the innocent Japanese men, women and children who simply want to practice Christianity. The supporting cast held its own, including the idiotic, loveable and one-that’ll-make-you-cry Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka). I think that’s why the conclusion of this film hit the hardest.
Silence is a film that Scorsese wanted to make, and nobody could tell him otherwise. That’s why this has all the makings of a masterpiece and no studio hands dipping into its final production.
Now, a question does linger: How will this hold up a second time? Most of this admiration is coming from one viewing, but I’d imagine a second would vanquish the allure in key moments.
Regardless, this is a nearly three-hour journey filled with the usual Scorsese-isms: silence in moments where the audience would otherwise expect noises and loud sound effects, drawn-out shots that expound upon the emotion felt on the screen and dialogue that doesn’t try to overachieve, yet works in emotionally shaking your psyche.