By Christian DiMartino
Martin Scorsese’s Silence is a work of art. A film of stunning beauty and subtle power. Truth be told, it’s the film Scorsese was born to make.
If you’re unaware of the legend behind Silence, allow me to fill you in. Scorsese has been trying to make this film for roughly 30 years. He’s been through lawsuits and what not, so the journey hasn’t been an easy one. And sure, watching Silence unfold isn’t the easiest journey. But I have to say: what a masterpiece. Glory glory hallelujah.
Throwing the term “masterpiece” around is something of a bold move. Is it really perfect? Maybe it isn’t. But yet I’m not hailing Silence as a masterpiece because I want to; I’m hailing Silence as a masterpiece because I need to.
Scorsese has danced with the topic of faith many times, in films like The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun, but yes there’s religious subtext buried within a lot of his work. This is simply because even before he became a filmmaker, he was tempted to join the priesthood. So watching Silence, it’s easy to see just why he was drawn to this religious tale of madness. It’s a thought-provoking, fascinating piece of work.
The film opens with narration from Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), as he witnesses Japanese people around him getting boiling water poured on them (if you’re looking for a fun time at the movies, you’ve come to the wrong place). We then learn that, rumor has it, Ferreira has apostatized, and has since married. Being baffled by such news, two Portuguese Jesuits, Rodrigues and Garpe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), set off to Japan not only to spread the word of Christianity but also search for their mentor, Ferreira. They are warned early on that once they arrive in Japan, they’ll be on dangerous territory.
Upon arrival, they come across a group of Japanese Christians, living in hiding in the hopes of avoiding persecution. But before long, the madness begins. Innocent people are soon lit on fire, or placed on a crucifix during high tide. Their key to safety? Simple: step on a tablet with Jesus’ face on it, and renounce your faith. These scenes, while quiet, have an undeniable power that resonates.
Rodrigues and Garpe eventually go their separate ways, and Rodrigues is captured. Before we know it, Rodrigues is probably put in the most difficult situation possible: The Inquisitor (Issei Ogata) tells him that he will spare him. However, if he doesn’t step on said tablet, then more and more innocent people will die. Which causes both physical and mental torture.
Silence, pretty much guaranteed, won’t be for everyone. Some might find stretches boring, or simply they may not respond to the story. But I had no such problem. I always found Silence fascinating. Yes it’s nearly three hours long. Yet from the moment they set sail and on, I felt a sense of impending doom and anxiety. We don’t really know what is in store for these characters, and while we can’t wait to find out, it’s a little frightening.
Part of the genius of Silence is Scorsese’s lack of a score. Rather than have traditional music, Silence is mostly consisted of noises from nature, and in some cases, silence. With this, we truly feel as if we’re watching these people in a real time, in a real place. Some people aren’t aware of subtlety. Scorsese is, and uses it beautifully. The authenticity of it all is truly something to admire.
Of course credit must also be paid to the production team. What a beautiful looking film, what with Rodrigo Pietro’s gorgeous cinematography, the phenomenal production design from Dante Ferreti, and the unique costumes from Sandy Powell. They have all worked wonders for Scorsese before, and have done so again.
Then there’s also the performances. I don’t know if anyone has been put through a spiritual ringer more than Andrew Garfield, what with both this film and Hacksaw Ridge in November. Yet both performances have truly brought out the best in him. Here we see a man pushed to his limits, and considering the fact that he’s a religious man during this time period, every ounce of Garfield’s work feels completely believable. Ogata is also purely menacing, chewing up the scenery every time he’s on screen. Driver and Neeson are gone for a good portion of the film, but when given the chance to shine, they do.
It has been hours since I left the theatre for Silence, and truth be told, it’s hardly left my mind. It may not for some time. It’s a thought-provoking, challenging film. But yet it’s one that needed to be. Scorsese needed to tell this story. Why do I say this? Well, you just have to see it to find out. Putting Silence into words has been difficult, because it’s simply a masterwork that needs to be experienced. But I can say this:
It’s one of the true achievements of 2016.