Film Review: Silence
SILENCE (2016) DIR. MARTIN SCORSESE
There is much that is beautiful and much that is horrific in this passion project which has taken Martin Scorsese thirty years to bring to fruition. Based on a book of the same name by Shūsako Endo about Catholic missionaries in 17th century Japan, which explores the complicated relationship that many religious people have toward their religion and apparently one shared by Scorsese. The existential dilemmas which arise when adherence to the tenets of faith collide catastrophically with reality and individual morality is what this film grapples with in nearly three torturous hours.
I was seduced by the ravishing cinematography of Japanese landscapes of sublime beauty and mystery populated with images of monks living a simple life in handmade bamboo dwellings at one with nature. Alas, that is the premise, of so many tragic tales of the well-meaning but illinformed zealots of charity whose devotion to what they believe to be true - make the fatal mistake of trying to convert people who have their own deeply-held beliefs and cultural traditions. This is fertile and well-trodden territory in literature, theatre and film.
Scorsese, as always, delivers a film rich with colorful individual characters. The two young Portuguese monks, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), whose body and hair always remain absurdly perfect and Father Garupe (Adam Driver), who looks appropriately gaunt and drawn, set out to find Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), the last monk to legally enter Japan many years ago, before they were banned from the country. The rumor is that he is still living there among the Japanese, with a Japanese wife after having apostasized (renounced his faith) in order to avoid torture and death. The young priests, for whom he is an icon, disbelieve this notion and are determined to find him or find out the truth to clear his name.
They are theoretically aided by Kichijiro (Yōsuke Kubozuka) a drunken lunatic who acts as translator, thoroughly unreliable, and ultimately treacherous, guide. And they are thwarted and harassed at every turn by the old Samurai, Inoue (Issei Ogata), the Inquisitor, who is on his own equally urgent mission to get the priests to renounce and leave Japan, imagining that the absence of the priests will cause the hope and practice of Christianity to simply fade away. He has a strange and menacing way of speaking and behaving (He brought to mind John Malkovich), as he faces stubborn resistance from the priests and the village converts. In the end he begins to act out in the same manner and he revives some of the old horrendously cruel techniques to force them into submission.These sense are extremely graphic and difficult to watch in spite of the stunning camera work.
Finally, the length of the film and the endless internal struggles of Father Rodriques, with God and his faith, which ultimately allows him to see the light and understand Father Ferreira, make the audience feel as if we too had made the grueling journey. Maybe that was the intention. But, I found myself wondering why on earth it took so long. At any rate, it was a relief to see genuine compassion and understanding win the day. Hallelujah!