Martin Scorsese has a wide variety of directing credits. He has created Goodfellas, one of the most iconic gangster films in history, Shutter Island, a dark psychological thriller and the excellent black comedy, The Wolf of Wall Street. He’s even tackled children’s fantasy in the form of Hugo. With such a variety of genres, it is always a different experience watching a Scorsese film. And whilst Scorsese has crafted controversial films with religious themes such as The Last Temptation of Christ, his latest historical/religious drama Silence is like nothing I have ever seen before. It is a brutal yet beautiful masterpiece examining religious persecution, dedication to faith and one’s personal and individual relationship with God. It has stunning cinematography, an amazing score, Academy Award worthy acting and incredible world building, all of which establish and successfully explore a rich and deep culture that I had never really learned about or examined before. Despite its lengthy run time of 161 minutes, I didn’t feel that at all, showing how engrossed I was with the story and the characters. With the Oscars approaching, this is definitely a contender in my opinion that should receive high praise and recognition.
Based on the 1966 novel set in the mid-1600s, Silence follows the journey of two Catholic Priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who voluntarily decide they must go to Japan to find their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who has apparently committed apostasy (denouncing God). Japan at this time was a country of extreme danger to Christians, as their faith was illegal following the Shimibara Rebellion in 1637-1638 (Japanese Catholics destroying and raiding the Buddhist relics and temples), leading to the creation of the hidden Christians, which provides a key group that is examined in Silence. It is this society of discrimination of fear that encapsulates the films tension that not only looms over the Christians, but also the audience. Once arriving in Japan, the two Priests are thrown into a country of danger and discrimination, where they discover true brutality and start to question the faith their lives are dedicated to.
I believe that the first major positive that I should discuss is the amazing performances from leading and supporting roles. Andrew Garfield as Father Rodrigues is outstanding and truly encompasses the themes of this film, as well as the characters these actors portray. Along with the buzz he is getting for his performance in Hacksaw Ridge which isn’t out in the UK yet, Garfield is proving himself to be one of the greats. Rodrigues at the start of the film is a strong determined individual who is willing to risk his life to spread the Christian faith across Japan. As a Priest, the hidden Christians are enamoured by him, as he can forgive their sins and perform many baptisms that initially bring peace and hope to their society. Yet as Rodrigues experiences the almost unimaginable pain and suffering that the Christians must live through on a daily basis, we start to witness the descent of Rodrigues. Garfield perfectly captures the emotional and personal journey that Rodrigues takes, becoming a calm mentor in one scene, yet later on in the film, he is almost unrecognisable. It is also through Garfield that we start to understand the relationship with God that is questioned throughout the film. Garfield’s internal prayers and his speaking to God are heard by the audience, allowing us to gain a deep and meaningful understanding of Rodrigues, as Garfield’s performance excellently develops Rodrigues to become a sympathetic and complex character. We really feel as though we are taking this journey of discovery with Rodrigues, which brings with it highly emotional scenes driven by Garfield’s performance of sadness and pain.
Adam Driver also provides a fantastic performance as Garupe. Seeing as the last time I saw Driver in a film was as the villainous Kylo Ren in Star Wars The Force Awakens, it just demonstrates how diverse Driver can be given his role in Silence. Garupe provides a strong balance for Rodrigues as he is a true friend who can offer support, yet is more sceptic of the mission once they arrive in Japan. Driver is able to portray a character who possibly the audience can relate to, as we are also afraid for the characters who are in a life threatening situation for pretty much the entire run time of the film. Driver should also be commended for losing 50lb for the film, giving the physical appearance of an almost frail and weaker man when compared to the power that the Japanese Buddhists hold over the Christians. The accents of both Garfield and Driver are also convincing, and the fact that both actors had to speak in a different language is also commendable. Liam Neeson has a small but crucial role as Ferreira, giving a brilliant performance which we have come to expect from the Oscar nominated actor. His somewhat soothing and calm nature is amazing when compared to the violence of the film, and his character is possibly the most important in the entire film, despite his small role (no spoilers here).
It is the Japanese actors involved in both major and supporting roles that convincingly present the sympathetic nature of the hidden Christians yet also the intelligence and powerful presence of the brutal persecutors. Yosuke Kubozuka is incredible as Kichijiro, a fisherman who is eager to return to Japan at the beginning of the film. He is a three dimensional character who is explored throughout the film, and whilst we may initially question some of his actions, for me he was extremely sympathetic and I understood his intentions (You’ll know what I mean if you see the film). He has a horrific backstory and is constantly filled with guilt, whilst also providing the audience with an overall likeable but heavily flawed individual. There are also memorable performances from Issei Ogata as the calmly vicious Old Samurai and the loyal and kind Mokichi (Shin’ya Tsukamoto). The overall Japanese talent assembled for this film demonstrates Scorsese’s ability to build our understanding of their culture from a variety of angles to gain an understanding of the complex situation that our protagonists find themselves heavily involved in. Coupled with the amazing Japanese performances are the amazing settings. The beautiful Buddhist temples and haunting villages highlight the conflict between the Christians and the Buddhists. A similar point can be made for the incredible costume and makeup, with the Buddhists wearing colourful and polished robes, whereas the hidden Christians wear ripped and dirty clothes. This world building is one of the key factors that engrossed me into the world, which the filmmakers should be congratulated for.
What I loved about this film most of all was its ability to effectively demonstrate a combination of physical torture and psychological torture. Without giving any major plot points away, the hidden Christians that our two protagonists come into contact with provide us with clear examples of victims of a society of fear and violence. Even before anything physical occurs, the realistic portrayal of the hidden Christian’s way of life along with outstanding performances from the members of the community builds sympathy from the audience towards the persecuted. It is this society that highlights the film’s theme of dedication to faith which is later questioned as the torture progressively damages the community and our main protagonists. However, it is the truly unsettling and disturbing physical torture that sets the questioning of faith in motion. Scorsese places these moments of violence throughout the film to not only highlight the danger that Christians face within Japan, but also to drive the psychological torment of our main characters. These sequences are difficult to watch, yet are not handled in an over the top gory manner that could be seen as disrespectful. They are realistic and in some ways quiet which is what makes them so unnerving. The very first scene of the film involves a form of torture that is so beautifully filmed with amazing cinematography that it is almost easy to forget how disgusting the actual situation is. There are undoubtedly some shocking moments throughout the film yet these are not common and are handled with care, a definite achievement from the direction of Scorsese.
Yet it is the psychological torment that Rodrigues faces throughout the film that is what I truly admire. If physical and psychological torture were biological species, this would be symbiotic. Both are key in developing our characters and the story; yet work together in a way that is complex and deep. The questioning of faith that I have mentioned multiple times is demonstrated through Rodrigues as he consistently questions whether he is ‘praying to silence’. Both he and Garupe witness the persecution of the hidden Christians which is when Rodrigues begins his descent into madness in a way. His personality and physical appearance become more cynical as the story progresses representing the suffering he has endured. Many religious themes are discussed both explicitly and implicitly throughout the film, requiring some thought and attention from the audience. This is where the film may divide some viewers, as there is a large amount of religious imagery placed within the film that does have deep meaning (a lot which I am still trying to figure out). Some imagery may come across as pretentious and detract from the involvement in the film. This wasn’t the case for me as I felt this imagery was key in linking with Rodrigues’s struggle to maintain his dedication to his faith, yet I understand why some may see this as a negative.
After reflecting on Silence, I can say that this for me was a truly special film. I went in expecting quality as this was coming from one of the great Directors, but I wasn’t expecting the quality that I received. Once the film ended, the audience in my cinema didn’t move for about a minute as the credits rolled. That just proves the effect that this film had on me and others. It is a wonderfully crafted story with incredible acting and some truly disturbing moments. Despite a couple of pretentious moments with the imagery that holds this back from being a perfect film, this is a masterpiece that I think should be getting much more awards buzz than it currently is getting. I would love to see a Best Picture, Best Leading and Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay (Jay Cocks) and Best Director nomination and hopefully a couple of wins. Admittedly, I haven’t seen the major awards contenders such as La La Land and Manchester by the Sea which are both opening in the UK very soon, but I really hope that Silence gets the attention it deserves, as it is truly stunning.
I give Silence 9.5 out of 10