Silence is a hard movie to talk about.
Appropriate as that may seem, it hasn’t kept anyone from heralding it as director Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. Adapted from the 1966 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō the film stands as a faithful adaptation, what sets Scorcese‘s version from the 1971 film of the same name produced in Endō‘s native Japan is the influence of Scorcese himself. The casting for this movie is phenomenal, including excellent acting from both the big Hollywood stars on the billing as well as the venerable and brilliant cast that would be more familiar to a Japanese audience. All of it framed with the expert direction and cinematography that Scorcese has at his command. Every shot and scene is dense with a love for the art, setting, and themes of Endō‘s original story.
“Chinmoku (Silence)” was a historical fiction novel written in 1966 set during the events of the now-infamous “Hidden Christians” period in Japan, when the Japanese government, still fresh from extended and bloody civil wars, had to confront the influx of European powers bringing both Christianity and guns to their shore. The result was brutal, the end of which leaving Japan adapting to the gun but rejecting Christianity; violently. However Endō‘s take on the events were meant not as a condemnation of that period, but rather as an allegory for his own struggles in faith as a Christian growing up in Japan. The resulting story is a deeply personal experience told through the eyes of a priest who is experiencing Japan and it’s rejection of his faith though the lens of a foreigner.
Andrew Garfield presents that lens to us, his portrayal of the earnest (and soon beleaguered) Father Rodrigues is a beautiful and measured giving us the full nuance of his increasingly difficult relationship with his own faith when set against this “mud-swamp that is Japan.” He is accompanied by Father Garrpe (played by Adam Driver) on a mission to uncover the truth of their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who was rumored to have denounced his faith. It doesn’t help much to discuss the plot any further from there, but it’s necessary to praise the performances given.
Driver’s Garrpe plays as an excellent foil to Garfield’s Rodrigues. Where Rodrigues truly believes in the righteousness of ministering to the converted, Garrpe seems less enthused. Driver and Garfield play this relationship fantastically offering a good sense of doubt to sequence that is already mired in suspense of the two characters being caught. Neeson as Ferreira turns in a great performance as well giving us the most uncomfortable conversation in recent cinematic history when Rodrigues finally reunites with his mentor. The villagers and Japanese Christians they meet are performed phenomenally as well, with a conflicting and wonderful performance from Yôsuke Kubozuka as Kichijiro; the desperate and cowardly Christian convert who first leads the priests to Japan and a heartbreaking scene from Mokichi (played by Shin’ya Tsukamoto.) By far though one of the best performances in the film comes from veteran actor Tadanobu Asano, whose role as the unnamed interpreter offers both a sympathetic view of the Japanese officials performing the Christian persecution by being simultaneously empathetic while being every bit as patronizing as the Europeans can give.
Of course, the real star here is Japan itself, beautifully presented through the expertise of Scorcese’s decades in the film industry. Every shot, every frame speaks to the depths of his own ability and knowledge. This film doesn’t feel so much as though it were shot as much as it were crafted. Scorcese uses every tool at his disposal, from his legendary close-ups allowing for the intensity of the performances to come through, intercut with beautiful wide shots that stand as both testaments to his own expertise as well as love notes to the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, even going so far as to linger on a shot of the sun. His most powerful tool, and one that he has used to great effect in the past is the titular silence. There is no score for this film, rather we are treated to the ambient sounds of rural Japan, the sounds of the suffering, or nothing at all as the characters are left alone with themselves. The silence in this film is used like punctuation, informing the scene as much as the actors themselves shape it, and at times the silence can be overwhelming.
The Bottom Line:
Simply put, there is so, so much to be said about Silence. Whether it should be called a masterpiece is best left to the scholars and academics, what it is however is a masterclass of good filmmaking. If ever you needed a barometer for an expertly-crafted piece of cinema, here Martin Scorcese has given you a tremendous gift. For all other purposes Silence stands as an experience that any human being should have, it is not a feel good film, but it is the very definition of riveting. It is a complex and engrossing experience somewhere between what is human and faith; what lays there is Silence. And Silence is hard to talk about. – 9.8/10
– Scott Anthony Wittie
Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine