It is not often that a single word manages to sum up the essence of an entire film, religion and audience, let alone a Scorsese film at that. Nine times out of ten what a film intends, interprets and the way an audience reacts are three completely separate entities. In the case of Silence however, there is nothing better to describe this dense faith driven drama then the title which encompasses it. With torturous scenes of un-answered questions, moments of little to no dialogue and infuriating acts of repentance, the sound of nothing really does take centre stage, leaving God hiding ambiguously in the wings.
From the get go Scorsese takes us deep into the unrelenting world of religious sacrifice, setting up the most uninviting opening scene imaginable, filled with burning bodies and martyrs dying for Christianity in Japan. On a secluded beach, surrounded by miles of aquatic paradise there is no doubt that this epic journey is going to tantalisingly paradox the stillness of God’s nature with the rotting of human flesh. Just with the touch of a foot on the face of Christ, the Japanese guarantee freedom. But spiritual callings seek unfathomable torture in the face of such a faith being broken, and so flames take the place of this neglected escape. It is this persecution of the Church that sends Padre Rodriguez (Andrew Garfield) and Padre Garupe (Adam Driver) from Portugal into the heart of Nagasaki to find their beloved Ferreira in the first place. Played bravely if not unexpectedly, by the long-time action hero Liam Neeson, the salvation of the presumed apostatised Ferreira, is ultimately more about restoring the faith of his followers (and no doubt the director) then the salvation of a human life.
As Silence goes deeper into the heart of Japan, we in turn go deeper into the heart of the two Padres, coming to witness the strange human complex of men who dedicate their lives to Christ. What Driver, perhaps more so than Garfield achieves so well is the exploration of the unheroic capabilities that Jesuit Priests exude in the face of atrocity. Like the men that kneel at their feet, they too doubt the presence of a God, a master who cares about their existence as much as he cares about his own. In their bleakest moments, neither can truly understand their belief in higher powers nor the sacrifices being made in their names. It is why Japanese authorities are so keen for them to give up Christianity and stop the example which countless thousands seek to follow. Ultimately, endless unanswerable questions arise: who is truly being worshiped? If there is only silence then whose name are these martyrs dying in? And have Christians simply bought the great emptiness of life, nothing more?
In this careless appreciation for life and unwavering dedication to a higher purpose, sparse and desolate plot lines do emerge, which at times can be just a little bit too much to stomach. Whilst Scorsese clearly intends to challenge his main protagonists in the midst of their despair and test their investment in the Lord, he perhaps tests ours a little too much. Arguments could be made for an unavoidable frustration which arises, taking the place of any empathy intended by the cinematographer. As more and more people die in the name of ‘Paradiso’, there is little on screen attention paid to the countless lives lost, instead preferring Garfield’s reaction to the sacrifices being made. Yes his character suffers in their agony, but the stoic resistant to the human condition of pain, makes it difficult to care about children drowning or women being bled upside down.
In the end “Silence” is an excruciatingly painful film to both watch and feel. So ‘enjoyable’ is not really a word that can be applied here. There are far too many moments of ‘nothingness’ to absorb onlookers for the mammoth duration of a somewhat documentary like storyline. And we are in turn left in ‘Silence’ ourselves on numerous, unwelcome occasions. But this by no means makes Scorsese’s latest film a tragic failure, on the contrary it is quite the opposite. As Rodriguez imagines his greatest obstacle to be God’s silence (he prays constantly, and yet He never responds), the story seems to leave us in the same agony, as the director teases but never fully concludes his own position on faith and the apostatised . Because of this, a strange labyrinth emerges which we never truly escape. But even as we leave the cinema, doubting everything we thought we knew about modern day storytelling, we realise that Silence will be staying with us longer than we hoped. It’s a film that crawls into your skin for days after and physically weighs you down with its spiritual baggage. It’s the hallmark of truly impeccable film making.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Andrew Garfield (Rodrigues), Adam Driver (Garrpe), Liam Neeson (Ferreira), Tadanobu Asano (Interpreter), Ciaran Hinds (Father Valignano), Issei Ogata (Old Samurai/Inoue)
Running Time: 161 Mins
Image credit: http://www.leblogtvnews.com/page/30