Silence

Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: Martin Scorsese, Jay Cocks.
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Ciarán Hinds, Tadanobu Asano, Issei Ogata, Yoshi Oida, Yôsuke Kubozuka, Shin’ya Tsukamoto.

“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church”

Martin Scorsese is, undoubtedly, one of the great American filmmakers. For over 40 years he has been the guy that has wanted to wash the scum off the streets; claimed it’s better to be King for a night than schmuck for a lifetime; advised us to never to rat on our friends and to go home and get our fuckin’ shine boxes. These classic cinematic moments aside, he’s also known for the occasional deviation from the norm of his criminal outings and delivered films with deep religious themes; The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun and now Silence completes his unofficial religious trilogy. 

Plot: In 17th century Japan – at a time when Catholicism was outlawed – two Portugese Jesuit priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) travel to the foreign land in search of their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who’s lack of correspondence has led to rumours of his apostasy. In order to find the truth behind his disappearence and obvious silence, the two missionaries decide to enter dangerous territories where Christians are tortured and killed, putting their own faith to the ultimate test.

Having a religious faith has always been a recurring theme throughout Scorsese’s filmography. Despite Catholicism predominantly being the focus, he did embrace the Buddhist philosophy when he delivered the fascinating saga, Kundun in 1997. With Silence, Marty takes us back to the guilt-ridden suffering that his Catholic faith has, seemingly, brought him.

It’s clear from the opening of this film that Scorsese wants to go big and the truth is, he goes very big. This is a film on a grand scale. Not just in terms of visuals but in terms of its dense and thought provoking themes. For all it’s religious rhetoric, though, it manages to avoid preaching. And that’s what I respect most about Scorsese’s endeavours here. There’s a deep commentary on the importance of different cultures and the influences they have on belief systems, psyche’s and human nature.This is a thought provoking examination on the desperation of faith and the greater need to believe that it will prevent suffering in life and provide absolution. Alas, it may lead to nothing. Some people’s faith might stand strong while others will be led on a journey of self-discovery and an eventual reluctance to tread a preordained path. Scorsese ponders hard on whether faith has any substance or tangible affinity with a supreme or celestial being. Despite being raised Catholic myself, I personally think it’s wholly illogical and such a ridiculous notion that it has become a socially accepted form of madness. Granted, if not taken literally, it can provide some comfort in the vast enigma of our existence but I prefer to approach life in accordance with science and logic and, like some of the characters in this story, I had to turn my back on blind acceptance.

Although this is based on the novel by Shûsaku Endô – who wrote from the rare perspective of being a Japanese Roman Catholic – this feels a lot like Scorsese exercising his own demons and how faith and it’s constructs have held him back within his own personal life. In some senses the film is a close relative to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Organised religion may take the place of Coppola’s tribal spiritualism but this is no less an existential journey than Cpt. Willard’s search for Col. Kurtz. Here we have Garfield (delivering an excellent performance and deliberately looking like Christ himself on occasion) and Driver – who perfectly capture the youthful naiveté of their devotion. Their search for their mentor Neeson, who has abandoned his faith and succumbed to eastern beliefs, captures the same intrigue and wonder that Apocalypse Now possessed in terms of a once devoted man now choosing a completely different and unexplained path. And what right does one’s beliefs have over another? This is the crux of the film and Scorsese poses this crux without ever having to be forceful. He lets it smoulder and the events and beliefs explain themselves.

Throughout this journey, Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto conjure up very striking and haunting imagery. They don’t shy away from depicting human suffering but they also look at the beauty of our world and look aghast at how we “under the watchful eye of God”, can even commit atrocities to one another.

This is, somewhat, of a demanding film and it requires a certain patience but if you give it your commitment, it’s a thoroughly rewarding experience. Scorsese lets loose on a subject that is very close to his heart. We’ve seen religious symbolism and references throughout his work over the years but none have been as potent as his work is here.

Mark Walker

Trivia: When the project was announced, Daniel Day-Lewis, Gael García Bernal and Benicio Del Toro were cast in the lead roles. Day-Lewis was originally set to play Father Ferreira, Bernal was initially set to play Father Rodrigues, and Del Toro was formerly set to play Father Francisco Garupe. They all dropped out of the project after repeated delays in the production’s development. Bernal and Del Toro were replaced by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver respectively while Liam Neeson replaced Day-Lewis.


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37 Responses to “Silence”

  1. Adored this movie and it was one of the easiest reviews I’ve ever written. I had so much swirling in my head to say about it. Really glad you liked it too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought it was fantastic, brother. I’ve enjoyed all three of Scorsese’s religious films. It’s been a while since I’ve seen The Last Temptation but I remember its power and controversy very well. Kundun was also outstanding. It’s a hard call between them all but Silence may be his best of the three. Lots of thought provoking stuff going on here. Why this was ignored at the recent Oscars is beyond me. Normally this would’ve been Oscar bait material. What’s going on there?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I honestly don’t know. It seems like it got one lone nomination but was never seen as a contender in the category. I don’t get it but it certainly smells funny.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, somethings not right. This was definitely one of the best pictures of 2016. Although, it’s not my favourite, in terms of quality and craftsmanship, you could argue it’s the best. Marty was robbed once again, methinks. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review Mark. I too found much to love about Silence; it may just be Scorsese’s best film in the last 20+ years.

    Interesting comparison to Apocalypse Now, one that I hadn’t considered before. Rodrigues’ deteriorating faith merits comparison to Willard’s impending insanity, and both pictures emphasize dehumanization… Although like yourself I’m not religious, I found this (as well as many of Scorsese’s other pieces) very enlightening.

    I have to ask, but what did you make of the idol sequence at the end? To me, that was the movie’s sole misstep; I would have preferred if Scorsese axed the narration to make God’s existence appear more ambiguous. Though that’s a slight quibble, this is a near perfect film.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, sir! I’d agree that it’s probably Scorsese’s best film for 20 years. In fact, I’d say it’s his best film since Kundun in 1997. I was a huge fan of that film. If I was to sway towards any religion then Buddhism would be my choice and that’s why Kundun really resonated with me. (Although I see Buddhism more as a philosophy rather than a religion).

      I definitely felt like this was a similar journey to Apocalypse Now. I was reminded of that film so often throughout. Not a bad film to be compared to either, I’d say.

      Again, I agree about the ending. That was stuck out to me too. It’s because of that that I didn’t afford the complete 5 stars. Otherwise, this would have been a flawless film.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I may go as far to say it’s his best since GoodFellas. While I’ve liked all of Scorsese’s recent work, I think all of his films within the last 15 years are flawed in one way or another, but Silence is the one film that has really haunted and stayed with me.

        And it’s certainly a honor to be compared to Apocalypse Now. It just so happens to be my favorite film. 😉

        A friend of mine argued that the idol scene devolved into self-parody (though he told me he enjoyed the film overall), and while I wouldn’t go that far, I would have preferred that there would be no voiceover. But it’s undoubtedly a mighty picture for sure.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aah! I knew you were find of Apocalypse Now but had no idea it was your favourite film. Nice choice, man.

        I wouldn’t really split hairs with you on how a lot of Scorsese’s recent films are flawed to one extent or another. Always great but just lacking that perfect edge.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This movie was incredible. It’s been one of an elite few films I’ve given the perfect 5 to this year. But who cares about ratings. What’s most important is the way Scorsese shapes a harrowing, brutal descent into deep existential and spiritual existence and refuses to cast judgment. I think that’s what made this such a tough but hugely rewarding watch for me.

    Very happy to have read your take on it now

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was quite something wasn’t it? I considered the 5 stars myself. It’s definitely worthy of it and had me questioning my own approach to religion throughout its duration. Scorsese knows how to reflect on religious beliefs and leave it open to debate. It’s a recurring theme and always handled very intelligently in his films. “Rewarding” is exactly the word to describe this film. I liked it a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

      • From my readings on this, this was a lifelong project for him. The weight of the final cut tends to speak to how much passion was in this thing. I really would love to see it again. Such a tough watch though, I think the lack of Mel Gibson-like violence makes that aspect harder to appreciate. But those torture scenes, that’s some sick shit.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, apparently this took an age for Marty to finally get it together. The results speak for themselves. You can can definitely see the passion here. That scene with the Japanese Catholics stuck to crucifixes in the ocean, is an image I won’t easily forget.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah and those shallow-water drownings. F**kin vicious man.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aye! Powerful stuff! And again, it throws up the question of where in the world CAN’T you find strife and suffering in the name of religion??? It has a lot to answer for…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. High praise. Never heared of Kundun, some fan I am. Got the blu ray of Silence but it’s about 17 hours long so I’m just trying to find the time!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kundun is fabulous, man. Scorsese giving some attention to Buddhism and the Dalai Lama. It’s a beautiful film and Silence is very similar in its approach. Although it has a lengthy running time, it honestly doesn’t feel like it. This is a very well made film and one of Scorsese’s best for some time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wolf of Wall Street is my favourite of his since the De Niro 90’s masterpieces. Kundun passed me by, I googled it before, I really don’t know if its my bag, religion is always a sketchy one for me. But its Scorsese so has to be worth it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nothing will ever beat Marty’s collaborations with Bob. His films with DiCaprio have been very good but still not quite in the same class. Wolf of Wall St was superb. If I remember correctly that was a 4.5 rating for me. I really liked it but I don’t think I’ve handed out a full 5 stars for any of Scorsese’s film that didn’t include DeNiro.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’d probably do 5 for Wolf of Wall Street. Since I can’t be bothered making half star ratings 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I haven’t given Marty 5 stars for a while. Goodfellas may be the last film that I did. I do always tend to give out high marks, though.

        Like

  5. I loved this film and was impressed by the acting, the setting, the journey. I was thinking about the title and the ending. While both priests, in the end, submit to their Japanese surrounding, they do not relinquish their faith in God, they just keep it inside. I thought they were trying so hard to be perfect and faithful to their religion, willing to die, willing for others to die, etc., but by giving in and outwardly denouncing their religion, they live and thrive. Did they sell out? Did they learn that silence is preferable because, in Christianity, your relationship with Jesus and God is personal? Or is it more about spreading the word? That oxymoron, the contrast is marvelous and Scorsese did a magnificent job bringing it out.
    Interesting thinking about this in relation to Apocolypse Now.
    The cinematography was glorious.
    The only criticism–he could have shaved off 20 minutes.
    A Scorsese masterpiece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For the most part, I think that Scorsese captured that ambiguity, Cindy. I too, thought that Garfield’s character held on to his belief but had to sacrifice it in order to let others live. He was a missionary, though. His whole operandi was to spread the word of God. He didn’t manage that and there are doubts if he even convinced himself. That’s what I loved about the film. How many people doubt their devotion to God? I did during a time and, ultimately, decided it wasn’t for me. Having an insight into religion and its structure has made me vehemently against it. But it’s the very question of religion and its devotees that intrigued me about this film. It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you sit on, Scorsese makes you consider both sides.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Anytime I see a film is by Scorsese, I get interested. He’s a master craftsman. Thanks for reminding me of this, I missed it in cinemas.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I know how much you love Marty so I was intrigued what you’d think of this. Glad you loved it! My brother gave me the DVD for this as he got an hour in and switched it off! He has no taste 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great flick from, Marty. I had put it off for while until I was ready for it. Had a feeling I couldn’t just go into this without being prepared. Glad I chose the right time for it as it I loved it. Thought it was absolutely stunning.
      As much as your brother has no taste, it has worked in your favour. A dvd gift, sir! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Excellent review mate. This really was incredible wasn’t it? You also wrote something that I have been saying since I was sent to a catholic school at 13 year of age:

    ” it has become a socially accepted form of madness. ”

    Fucking oath.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it was powerful stuff. I was brought up catholic from birth and I turned my back on it when I was teenager. It’s fucking insane!

      Like

      • Yeah, it is fucking crazy man. Why my atheist parents sent me to the school still boggles my mind! For the first term there, I honestly thought I was going to hell.
        Why?
        Because I was taking the Lord’s name in vein, by constantly saying “Oh my god, you bastards killed Kenny!”
        After a term I realised it was all nonsense. I was hella naive though, I wasn’t even baptised, let alone christened, but I still ate their stupid fucking crackers until a classmate told me I wasn’t allowed to! Haahaha!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha! Those crackers are the biggest load of hokum invented. “Body of Christ” and all that? I do remember them being fucking tasty though, I used to sneak up for seconds. 😉

        Like

      • hahaha that’s why I ate em! That and cos everyone else was. I remember asking over and over, why?? Its a cracker!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I always kept asking why we never got any of the alter wine? Greedy priest always kept that to himself. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • Same! I asked that question a few times and other students told me I wasn’t supposed to ask about it!

        I find it funny man, in one term – ten weeks – I went from knowing NOTHING about Catholicism, to ‘learning’ about it (ofc not its sordid history!) and subsequently became scared of it…. for a couple of weeks… then I slowly realised, via the cracker/wine and other obvious BS, that it was all a bunch of bullshit and decided that it was a cult, before I knew what a cult even was.

        In fact, if I look back at how indoctrinated the people were at that school, and compare to my fellow residents when in rehab (dunno if you’ve read any of my ongoing story bout that, but the place was some sort of sect), they were all very similar. Just 110% indoctrinated in stuff that makes no sense whatsoever, and I’m looking in from the outside in both instances trying to figure out what the fuck is happening while everyone is silently whispering “join us….. Join us…..”

        Sorry. End ramble. 🙂

        Like

  9. In real life, there was a Japanese Samurai – Dom Justo Takayama – that converted to Catholicism, was persecuted and now is venerated as Blessed. It is amazing when you realize that Catholicism always survived in Japan, since Saint Francis Xavier arrived there over 400 years ago. Despite all the persecution they went through. Scorsese wanted to make a movie about human endurance and the priests that “gave up”, but there were tons of others that never gave up.

    Like

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