PARAMOUNT PICTURES (2017)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Ciarán Hinds, Issey Ogata, Yōsuke Kubozuka, Tadanobu Asano
Did you hear the one about Kylo Ren and Spiderman going on a mission together?
Jokes aside now, as Silence doesn’t demand them. It is a heavy, long, punishing movie addressing issues of faith and doubt and posing the quandary – what actually does it mean to apostatize? A movie Scorsese has been writing and plotting for decades and now he has finally completed his passion project and throughout the movie this shows with its deep detail and questioning. It’s a paradox of itself – engaging yet testing, interesting yet boring. Less a movie and more an experience.
Beginning in 17th century Macau, Jesuit priest Alessandro Valignano (Hinds) has received word that a Portuguese Jesuit, Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Neeson), has renounced his faith after prolonged torture by Japanese authorities insistent on eradicating Christianity from their country (we are initially shown scenes of Christians at the stake having their flesh burnt off with hot water and worse) and has become “a Japanese”, inheriting a wife and child from one of the deceased. Ferreira’s pupils, Fathers Sebastião Rodrigues (Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Driver), cannot accept this as gospel and set out on a mission to find Ferreira and learn the truth.
Led by guide Kichijiro (Kubozuka), they arrive in Japan to find that the local Christians are all in hiding, forced to disguise their beliefs in fear of the Inquisitor (Ogata) and his brand of retribution. What they begin to witness horrifies them as Christians are drowned on wooden crosses and denied Christian burials. Believing they have bought this upon the villagers, Rodrigues and Garupe venture to separate villages as they search for Ferreira and to bring hope to the villagers. In his journal to Valignano, Rodrigues doubts he will continue to write as the mission is becoming ever more convoluted and the future looks bleak. The story then continues to slowly take shape as we follow Rodrigues on his tumultuous life journey.
At nearly three hours in length, Silence takes it times in telling its story (based on Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name) that really needs multiple viewings to appreciate the depth, however the movie does not lend itself to numerous views due to its ambling nature and testing narrative. Silence is in no way a bad movie, it’s in fact very good, though if on first viewing it is found to be gruelling, subsequent watches will not be any easier.
Visually, Scorsese and team have created an almost mystic Japan (the movie was actually shot in Taiwan) with mist-enveloped landscapes and serene vistas. Everything is treated delicately and respectfully, even the torture scenes have an air of tranquillity about them, and there is nothing to jolt you here. The silence is deafening throughout, the movie more than living up to its title in various ways. Any music is utterly minimal and barely audible and ambient sound makes up the majority of the background noises in each scene. Rodrigues constantly appeals to God, questioning God, and in return is granted only silence – until finally the silence is broken.
The marketing seemed to lead with Liam Neeson, however this is Garfield’s movie. We follow him on his quest, willing to accept martyrdom, and his struggle at the Inquisitor’s beliefs, including torturing other Christians until he apostatizes. Without internal monologue we are forced to read his face and actions, and he portrays this very well. His Jesus-like appearance is at odds with his Japanese brethren, and his story oft-seems to mirror that of Jesus, and it’s easy to see why it’s his story that is followed. Adam Driver certainly fits the look, his sharp features reminiscent of timely religious representations, however he is criminally underused in this movie – though his intensity is felt through his scenes with Rodrigues and the villagers. When Neeson does appear, he brings a zen-like quality (more akin to a Qui-Gon Jinn…) and simply put, his typical gravitas.
The standout performers, though, are the Japanese cast. Yōsuke Kubozuka excels as the shady, almost Gollum-like Kichijiro, constantly renouncing his faith and begging for his sins to be confessed once more. As the Jesuits guide, he has a slippery quality, never seemingly evil though not always pure. Tadanobu Asano (the fair yet brutal Interpreter), Shinya Tsukamoto and Yoshi Oida (Christian villagers) all excel in their roles and bring such weight to the proceedings, and Issey Ogata is sterling as the menacingly charming Inquisitor – calmly eradicating Christianity with a slow demeanour and cruel smile.
From a mission to a battle of wills, the movie rolls on. It is a compelling watch, but the majority of people will find themselves fidgeting throughout as long periods of nothing occur – beautifully presented nothings, but still – and large periods of questioning and doubt are eked out very slowly, and at times, repetitively. When the film does reach its conclusion, it’s not what you may expect and the film’s final shot opens itself to mass interpretation. It’s as un-Scorsese like as you can imagine – no booming soundtrack or ‘boom’ in general and minimal camera trickery – you are forced to study each scene and become part of the mission. During the movie, I did find it to be surprisingly inert in places and the more devout the story became, the harder to watch it also became. It’s extremely serious. It could also stand to be potentially 10-20 minutes shorter.
On another note, the Portuguese accents depicted range from acceptable to borderline questionable.
It’s not The Last Temptation of Christ, and it isn’t Kundun, it’s on a higher plain but boy, do you have to earn it.
July 5th 2017