“Silence” is directed by Martin Scorsese based on the bestselling novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. “Silence” tells the story of Father Rodriguez and Father Garrpe, two Jesuit missionaries who travel to Japan after learning that their friend and mentor Father Ferreira has apostatized (denounced God) and has vanished. This is really the story of Rodriguez, and his search for Ferreira while also dealing with torture and Christian persecution during the Shimabara Rebellion in the 17th century. But more importantly, this is a story about struggle, faith and the silence of God. “Silence” stars Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, Ciaran Hinds and Tadanobu Asano.
“Silence” is Scorcese’s passion project. He’s been trying to get this thing made for over 25 years and now it’s finally here in glorious form. This is a very long film, running in at just under 3 hours that seems like a lot longer. However, I was so sucked into the story I didn’t feel its length because of the intelligence that this movie brings to the table. I will also say that this is not a film for a lot of people. This is a very religious, spiritual look on human suffering and why God stays silent when bad things happen to good people. There are graphic scenes of torture and moments that not only test, but challenge the Catholic faith. The movie never beats you over the head with preachy garbage, but it offers a genuine look at a real event that happened and makes us analyze religious persecution in all cultures. As interesting as the film is, again I will re-iterate that it’s not for everyone and that’s ok. For myself, I connected deeply with the characters, as having just read the book and admired everything that Scorsese brought to this magnificent triumph of a film.
“Silence” is extremely faithful to its source material. Reading the book, I wondered how they were going to do certain things that I read on the page and was curious as to how it would translate. They translated beautifully. The film really is supplemental material to the novel and makes the poetic words come alive. The cinematography was superb and the locations felt real and tangible. But the two big stars of this thing are Garfield and Scorsese. Andrew Garfield has impressed the hell out of me this year. He first turned in a masterful performance in “Hacksaw Ridge,” and now he gives what I consider to be the greatest performance of his career in “Silence.” He brought so much emotion and relatability to the character of Rodriguez. Liam Neeson was great in a smaller role and Adam Driver who played Father Garrpe was magnificent. And the actor who played the Japanese Inquisitor Inoue (Issei Ogata) was absolutely superb. I’m hoping that he gets a nod for best supporting actor. He very much felt like the Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds.” But the true star of the film is the maestro himself. Scorsese read “Silence” after making “The Last Temptation of Christ” and fell in love with the book. And since it took him over 25 years to make the film, the process could be considered Scorsese’s personal journey with faith and God.
Scorsese said in numerous interviews that a lot of the inspiration for this movie came from the great Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa, arguably the greatest director of all-time gave us movies like “Seven Samurai,” “Rashomon,” “Throne of Blood” “Yojimbo” and “Ikiru.” A lot of “Silence” pays great homage to Scorsese’s late mentor and you can see Kurosawa’s samurai imprint in many scenes in the film. Scorsese delivers a film that is unlike anything that I have ever seen from his resume. This movie is controversial, challenging, poignant, brutal, thought provoking and awe-inspiring and at times emotionally draining. The craftmanship of “Silence” is utter perfection and the themes and morals resonate today, making the challenges that this movie brings up relatable. “Silence” is a film that you won’t ever forget and you will be thinking about it for days on end, if you have the intelligence and the patience to understand the doctrine that the movie preaches. As far as the violence goes, it’s really not that violent but there are few moments in the movie that really show why this is rated R. Although the violence isn’t gratuitous like let’s say “The Passion of the Christ.” So while the blood and guts is left to a minimal, the scenes of torture are what’s truly haunting.
The novel is written mostly in the form of letters, and to substitute those letters, Garfield’s character relates to the audience by narration and it works exceptionally well. Part of the language of the book isn’t as poetic or beautiful because it’s a translated book and they really juiced up the screenplay to make it sound more heightened and I admired that. My only complaint, and it’s barely a complaint but I think the running time could have been a bit shorter. There are moments in the film where characters are just sitting around eating in silence or admiring the beauty and I think some of those shots could have been trimmed or cut while focusing on the greater story more. Sometimes the lingering moments in a film add to the viewer’s impatience and every so often I could feel that itch of wanting a scene to move onto the next.
“Silence” isn’t Scorsese’s best film, nor is it his most thrilling or exciting. But I do think that this is his most important film, more so than “The Last Temptation of Christ.” “Silence” is a movie meant to challenge faith and help us ask questions that deal with God, unanswered prayers and why bad things happen to us. “Silence” is every bit of a journey of the human condition as it is the journey of Scorsese, his filmmaking and his faith. “Silence” is created with sheer mastery and perfection in the hands of one of the greats. And even though the subject matter may put off a lot of people for its heavy religious doctrine, it’s the quietness of “Silence” that really gets under your skin; and if you listen closely, it will speak to you on many different levels.