The question of one’s faith is difficult one, for some it can be answered easily and for others it cannot. The strength of one’s faith is another and how that strength is tested in numerous ways by the trials of life. The story of Silence is a story of both, not only of the faith of Sebastião Rodrigues but every character he encounters on his journey through 17th Japan. Director Martin Scorsese has being trying to adapt Shūsaku Endō’s novel of the same name for over 20 years and the final result has arrived, its spiritual, powerful and a film you shouldn’t watch once and forget. Scorsese embraces the historical and theological importance of this film and creates powerful scenes that display the clash of cultures and belief.
Silence is the story of Sebastião Rodrigues and his trial of faith through 17th century Japan, a time when Japanese officials persecuted, tortured and killed any who practised the Christian religion. Rodrigues, a Portuguese Jesuit priest portrayed by Andrew Garfield is compelled to travel to Japan after hearing news his mentor Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has apostatised and renounced Christianity in Japan. Joined by his fellow priest Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) their travels take them to villages that still secretly practice Christianity and it becomes clear the Christian Church of Japan will only survive through them as they are the last priests in the country.
While it starts as a tribute to the power of faith in times of oppression, Scorsese expertly weaves in the ideas of colonialism and Rodrigues own hypocrisy. From the viewpoint of Rodrigues and Garupe, they see themselves as saviours, the only ones who could free Japan from its savagery. All characters initially introduced to in Japan are kind to the priests, the threat of Japanese oppression is faceless, just a hoard of ignorant non believers who will never win as long the faith is kept strong. But every argument has two sides and when Scorsese reveals the faces of the Japanese and the reasonings come forth, it doesn’t excuse the cruelty but the audience can clearly understand why such extreme measures are being taken to root out the Christian faith.
Now to those unfamiliar with the novel it may seem like Silence is nothing more than a “White Savior” film. White man comes to strange foreign land, humbled by the actions of locals and then learns valuable lessons and is seen as a hero. Silence is a dismantling of that concept and shows how selfish and foolish people like that can be. Not only through the consequences for Japanese Christians but also expressed through Rodrigues inner thoughts. At moments throughout the film he fashions his journey and experiences similar to those of Jesus Christ, the plight and martyrdom of the Japanese Christians weighs heavy on his soul yet he struggles to realise it his actions and presence that creates the environment that has allowed them to suffer. Later when Neeson’s character Ferreira is reintroduced to the story, the film makes more compelling points to the dangers that the arrogance of priests brought to Japan.
Scorsese doesn’t force the audience to choose sides on how to feel about its religious arguments but keeps both sides compelling that its near three-hour runtime doesn’t run stale. Having read half of the novel at the time of viewing the film, I do feel he may rushed through certain elements but the film never loses the sense of scale and the important journey that the priests embark on. I commend the incredible power of the third act not only for Scorsese’s direction but for Garfield’s performance, at times I found the accent work of Garfield and Adam Driver distracting but Garfield really sells the crisis Rodrigues is going through especially at the climax of the film.
I have certain criticisms but I believe they come from personal tastes and expectations from my own perception of Endō’s novel, I would definitely suggest reading either before or after viewing the film as it only offers more insight to the powerful material. Scorsese’s interpretation of Kichijiro, the apostatised Japanese was one something that left me wanting so much more as he was my favourite character from the novel however that disappointment I feel doesn’t undercut the characters importance to the story. In fact the character of Kichijiro I feel is the most important representation of Japanese Christianity in story of Silence and more development from him especially in the beginning of the film would have served the film greatly.
While a great deal of discussion has gone to the direction and execution of themes, I want to highlight the tremendous work of Scorsese’s production team. The look and feel of Japan is tremendous with the gritty suffering brought forth beautifully by both make up, costume and production design teams. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and editor Thelma Schoonmaker effortlessly craft a visual style that is reminiscent of the cinema language of early Scorsese. The level of detail of every shot depicting the Japanese culture, scenery and then those highlighting the religious themes of the film. The shot of the reflecting face of Christ through the stream was especially striking. I do feel the need to criticise the sound department as certain dialogues were ruined by bad mixing and the annoying repetition of the same cricket chirping sound effect. In a film with no use of score, atmosphere is important so any audio inconstancy is very noticeable
Silence is a film that will stay with you deeply religious or not, without going into spoilers the journey that Sebastião Rodrigues goes through in this film is a fascinating one. There are moments that shocked me, moved me and had me question my own thoughts on religion. I don’t believe in the Christian God and have a strong opinions on it but Scorsese and his team are able to deliver a film that I think will fascinate any audience that goes in with an open mind. I don’t know if this film is everything Scorsese wanted it to be but I do believe he accomplished something that will resonate with audiences for years to come.