Difficult Questions Emerge in this Gracefully Crafted Religious Epic
Released just in time for the 2016 award season, Martin Scorsese’s sweeping theological period drama Silence, based on the 1966 Shusaku Endo novel of the same name, marks the release of a 26+ year passion project for the iconic Hollywood director. Silence stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in search of their lost mentor in Japan during the Kakure Kirishitan; a time of violent christian suppression by the Tokugawa shogunate in the early 1600s.
Andrew Garfield leads the cast as Father Sebastiao Rodrigues (based on the real life Giuseppe Chiara). Father Rodrigues, eventually captured by the Japanese inquisition forces, is forced to find a way to continue to spread the gospel of Christ in the harshest environs he could imagine. Garfield shows Rodrigues’ compassion and vulnerability in a scene early in the film as he is asked by a faithful follower for answers on what to do when faced with the choice of death of apostasy (renouncing the faith). In a single word, and in a single look; Garfield captures the awful struggle deep inside his person – as he must find a balance between saving life and keeping faith alive.
During Silence, Garfield’s Rodrigues undergoes a personal evolution of faith that forces the question the film’s title begets – How long and under what conditions can faith survive when prayers are only answered with silence? Is God listening if there are no salvation? Is martyrdom an escape from true struggle?
While Garfield is a strong lead, and does no disservice to the role; it is his cast members that shine brightest. Leading the way is Adam Driver as Father Francisco Garupe, the devout traveling partner to Garfield’s Rodrigues. Driver imbues an intensity to his role that articulates Garupe’s fervent zeal for Christ; in many ways contrasting the more lenient choices Rodrigues will make. Driver expertly impresses upon audiences his character’s unshakeable faith in the mission and in his personal devotion to God.
Tadanobu Asano, a well known Japanese actor and musician, commands every scene he is involved in as ‘The Interpreter’; the mouthpiece for the inquisition who finds pleasure in having intellectual debates with Garfield’s Rodrigues over the ideals of faith and the purpose of Christianity in Japan. While Asano’s ‘Interpreter’ already knows that extinguishing the Christian ‘problem’ in Japan will come through force, he plants the seeds of doubt in Rodrigues – the seeds that will force Rodrigues to buckle under the weight of the questions previously noted as relates to the film’s title.
Rounding out the cast is Issey Ogata as Inoue Masashige; a real life prominent figure within the Kakure Kirishitan in the Nagasaki area of Japan. Ogata, a Japanese actor and comedian, brings an eerie passivity to the ‘Inquisitor’ with his deceptive faux-apathy for Father Rodrigues; his signature effeminate voice masking a much more ruthless identity.
Let the talents of the cast not overshadow the exquisite work of Martin Scorsese and his production team. Led by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain), Silence is one of the most beautiful films in many years. Its ability to capture the atmosphere of the rural southern Japanese islands and fishing villages, with the dense ocean fog, windswept beaches, and thicketed primeval forests is breathtaking; and often transcends to the highest reaches of film as a visual art form. Prieto works hand-in-hand with Scorsese’s sound department; which adds all of the noises and acoustics to further transport viewers to feudal Japan.
Adapted for the screen by Scorsese and one of his regular writing partners, Jay Cocks Gangs of New York); the script was originally written in 1991. 15 years of re-writes were well worth the effort, as Silence is able to expand on complex questions with delicately layered dialogue. One particularly striking line come from Asano’s ‘Interpreter’ as he uses poetic metaphor to explain to Rodrigues why Christianity will inevitably collapse in Japan:
‘But everyone knows a tree which flourishes in one kind of earth may decay and die in another. It is the same with the tree of Christianity. The leaves decay here. The buds die.’
The criticisms levied against Silence are the $40 Million budget and it’s 161 minute running time. Not often does a film come along with such striking visuals, such talented acting; that demands deeply personal reflection from its audience. $40 Million and 2 1/2 hours is only a negative as an unfortunate deterrent – the message of Silence will not reach the viewership it justly deserves. Scorsese has delivered a film over a quarter century in the making; and through it, challenged viewers with one of his most personal stories.
- Directing: 10/10 – Scorsese lends his considerable talent to this sweeping religious epic
- Screenwriting: 9/10 – Jay Cocks and Scorsese wade through heavy topics with delicate prose
- Acting: 9/10 – Japanese actors Tadanobu Asana and Issey Ogata shine with serene ferocity
- Cinematography: 10/10 – Rodrigo Prieto captures a stunning Japan that contrasts the violence it harbors
- Sound Mixing: 9/10 – Pairs perfectly with Prieto’s camerawork
10/10 – Scorsese assembled a talents cast of Western and Japanese actors, along with a skilled production crew, to complete his career’s passion project. Silence is filmed as a broad historical epic, but finds grace in a story of intensely personal religious conviction.