Movie Review: Silence

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Adapted from Shūsaku Endō ‘s compelling 1966 novel, ‘Silence’ is the tale of the struggle of the human spirit as much as it is about Jesuit Priests in the search for their missing mentor Fr. Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Starring Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, this is a hauntingly visceral cinematic journey into the unknown.

****
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Ciarán Hinds, Tadanobu Satō, Shinya Tsukamoto and Issey Ogata.

In the late eighties, Martin Scorsese shocked the world with an alternative re-telling of the tale of Christ. ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ was the subject of American protestation and Parisien burnings, a severe injustice to a beautifully emotional story of the struggle of the soul. Scorsese and screenwriter Jay Cocks return nearly thirty years later with another religious parable, the pursuit of God’s love in a country that so viciously fights it. And it’s more powerful than ‘Temptation’ was.

Ambiguity hangs from the frames of ‘Silence,’ no direct answer is given. The Portuguese characters are forced to suffer for the sins of their European ancestors, the Japanese are told to side with the Christians or the Inquisitor Inoue who hunts the Christian believers. Jesuit priests Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) test their religious will-power as they watch atrocities both genocidal and semi-holocausts befall their Japanese colleagues. ” I pray, but I am lost.” Rodrigues recites. ” Am I just praying to silence? “.

And silent the noise is. Devoid of music, the bird chirps and jungle rustles deafen the audience, attuned to the little rustles and bustles from the cinema speakers. There is realism to the film’s lack of soundtrack, every bruise and bone crush that bit more visceral and that bit more terrible than any orchestra could demonstrate.

A passion project for Scorsese, this is his first film since ‘Kundun’ that doesn’t seem to have an Oscar agenda attached to it (however incredible ‘The Departed,’ ‘Hugo’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ were). And this freedom from conventional cinema into the realm of art-house allows it to ask its audiences what its characters feel. Is death truly nobler than defeat? Is any ideology worth killing for?Is any worth dying for? Rodrigues has to ask himself these questions and come to terms with the high possibility that Fr. Ferreira may not be dead after all- only dead to his church.

Garfield is excellent, horrified at the mission he has volunteered for and at the crimes he witnesses. Garfield is forced to internalize his pain, masking himself between the private man and public priest. Neeson gives his most riveting performance since ‘Kinsey’; behind a populous platitude of action, heroes is a man who knows how to act. Ogata is magnificent, perhaps the film’s best performance, inflating his old elder with enough bite and battle to tackle the line of Christians who travel his country. A fantastic physical performance, he deflates himself (literally) in one scene as he gathers how difficult a subject Rodrigues is. The only Driver disappoints, his Portuguese dialect unconvincing, he is given little more than playing Garfield’s sidekick in the opening half, forgotten about completely in the second. How an actor of his stature agreed to this part is a mystery.

Where ‘Temptation’ was grandiose in the extreme, ‘Silence’ does something its biblical predecessor couldn’t: it’s human. Warts feel real; the burns feel real, the nauseating picture of El Greco’s  is that both of surreality and genius.At 161 minutes, the film is a little overlong, though it escapes overstuffing with such beautiful scenery of Taiwan, the language sunshine beaming over the crosses of martyred Christians, one of the film’s more indelible images. The opening shot of Ferreira crying as he walks to the torture few can withstand is the movie’s most striking, unusually for a Scorsese film, less attention is paid to the camera shots, and dialogue and most of its focus is on the story.

And yet it’s a worthy addition to the Scorsese back catalog, Scorsese’s most personal since the seventies. It’s startlingly soulful (in the manner that ‘Living In The Material World’ should have been), fighting for a man’s fate (Buddhist or Christian) to the grave and beyond.

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