Directed by Martin Scorsese.
Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, and Ciarán Hinds.
Martin Scorsese’s SILENCE tells the story of two Christian missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) – at a time when Christianity was outlawed and their presence forbidden.
The mighty hand of Catholicism, those harsh concepts of guilt, redemption, hang heavy over the films of Martin Scorsese. Taxi Driver, through the grime and scum fundamentally hinges on that of redemption through vengeance, the need to purge the darkness to find light. Goodfellas is a film of guilt, Cape Fear – a film of madness stemming from the delusion of God. 28 years in the making, Silence drenches the soul through gob-smacking religious rigour. And that mighty hand, hanging for so long, finally comes crashing down, creating a tsunami of immensely personal moral guilt. It’s Scorsese’s confession, his cleansing of the soul.
Having received a letter from their mentor Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) revealing his apostasy following a failed attempt at spreading the word of Christianity through 17th century Japan, Jesuit priests Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco (Adam Driver) succeed in persuading Father Valignano (Ciaran Hinds) to let them travel to Japan in order to locate and rescue him. Once arrived, they find themselves treated at once as Messianic figures, at once as fugitives. On their tail is Mokichi (a hysterically unsettling Shinya Tsukamoto)-part Hans Landa, part pantomime villain.
The first hour-the film is split into three vague chapters-runs rich with religious allegory as Rodrigues and Francisco find themselves treated as figures reminiscent of the Messiah. Recently landed, they wander through a village gripped by the paranoia of being caught in the possession of Christian paraphernalia, yet their appearance brings hope. People travel to witness them, to be in their presence, and this burden begins to weigh heavy.
The second chapter, a deeply cruel, almost incessantly tragic torture of the soul is a test of faith, a nasty obstacle course of religious do’s and don’t’s. Moments of optimism are sparse. Rodrigues and Francisco, but egg shells ready to break, attempt to hold their faith as their beliefs are tested to the very limit. Mokichi, gleefully morally ugly, questions Rodrigues’ role as an ambassador of Jesus, toying and torturing those praying at his feet.
The third placates physical torture for that of something far more emotional, more deeply philosophical and it’s here where that mammoth runtime is justified. At 161 minutes, it’s long, yet where his previous – Wolf of Wall Street – suffered from excess flab, Silence exploits repetition and vast chasms of nothingness in a manner reminiscent of a grandiose religious experience. That silence, the horrifying void of the unlistenable, the absence of answers, the absence of proof, the absence of God, pummels.
Scorsese never takes sides. Christianity is never the “right path,” nor is Buddhism. Through the horror, he attempts to find light, ultimately failing. As the bodies fall, Rodrigues stands tall whilst being reminded of his actions as being deeply un-Christian. His faith is twisted and pulled like a play thing. Only the Japanese leaders are portrayed with true villainy, yet Scorsese again brings depth. Strange white men descended upon Japan to spread the word of a God the Japanese chose not to believe, choosing to undermine Buddhism as if inferior to the power of Jesus and Scorsese-although clearly and rightly sympathising with the Jesuits-discusses with a deft touch.
Both Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield have long impressed, yet with Silence, they are revelatory. Driver, dropping both weight and that puppy dog charm so evident in Paterson, wanders with shoulders drooped, the burden of God reducing him to skin and bones. Garfield-his hair a gift in itself-appearing in almost every scene, performs with immense maturity. Where his accent slips on the rare occasion, his vulnerability and steely eyed determination in the face of such hate overwrites all. It’s a pair of truly brilliant performances.
Not since The Aviator has Scorsese presented a film of such jaw-dropping quality. Silence wrenches and wretches, it evolves, steeping in its existentialism. Waiting 28 years gave it reason, gave it time to ruminate and marinade and with time, it will become a very different beast. It’s something to be celebrated.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★