Silence

silence-movie-poster

Release: Friday, January 13, 2017 

[Theater]

Written by: Jay Cocks; Martin Scorsese

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Marty’s new film is so tonally different from what he last put out it made me feel like I was atoning for all those good times I had with Jordan Belfort and company in his Wall Street-based bacchanalian. Silence is such a brutal watch I left the theater pining for them good old days of Leo snorting coke off of Margot Robbie’s chest. Fortunately Scorsese finds a way to make the suffering not only worthwhile but essential viewing.

The customarily near-three-hour running time (which is totally justified and passes by in no time at all) encapsulates a journey the auteur has been wanting to share with the world for some time — nearly 30 years as a matter of fact. Silence is no doubt a passion project for a director renowned for depicting complex morality tales fueled by themes of guilt, corruption and redemption and it carries the kind of weight that suggests this is what he has been building towards throughout a protracted and distinguished career. Whether it’s the director’s crowning achievement is debatable, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest Silence is no ordinary theatrical release. It’s a transcendent experience that will haunt you long after viewing.

Scorsese adapts his material from the 1966 novel of the same name by Japanese author Shūsakū Endō, who identified as a Roman Catholic. Endō’s sprawling saga told of the life-altering journey undertaken by two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan from Portugal in search of a mentor who goes missing and supposedly apostatizes under extreme duress. The book has inspired two other cinematic adaptations over the years but it’s hard to imagine either of them achieving the same magnitude of emotional and psychological discomfort the noted (and self-confessed lapsed) Catholic has here.

In 1600s Japan Christianity is outlawed, yet small factions still practice in secrecy in the mountainous regions surrounding colonial Nagasaki, where the Spaniard Saint Francis Xavier had decades earlier attempted to plant the seeds of Catholicism in a country that already had an established national belief system. Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has for all intents and purposes vanished. Scorsese wants to know what kinds of forces would be necessary to shake a man of his beliefs.

Now we watch as Fathers Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) similarly attempt promulgation as they are led deep into the mountains by an alcoholic fisherman named Kichijiro (Yōsuke Kubozuka), a Judas-like snake in the grass who vacillates between denying his Christian roots and wanting desperately to repent. He is an enigma not worthy of our trust, unlike the rest of these “hidden Christians,” who simply yearn for a conduit through which they can confess their sins to God.

Scorsese’s meticulous, methodical direction complements an altogether brilliant screenplay that barbarically strips away hope and conviction from those who find themselves at the center of a bitter ideological conflict. Co-written with three-time collaborator Jay Cocks, Scorsese’s appropriately expansive treatment deals with some upsetting material in a refreshingly blunt but unbiased manner, as emphasized by the numerous observational shots taken at a distance from the violence visited upon the innocent by merciless shogunates like Inoue The Inquisitor (Issei Ogata). As the story unfolds we are challenged to question how much suffering is too much suffering. At what point does a cause become lost?

Several conversations take place that delineate the fundamental disagreement between practicing Buddhists and Catholics. These conversations are simultaneously fascinating and devastating to behold. Whereas Buddhists believe the individual can liberate himself from the perpetual cycle of ‘rebirth’ and ‘death’ (samsāra, which shouldn’t be literally translated as ‘suffering’ but rather a state of bliss that can never last) by choosing not to become obsessed with the material world, Christianity teaches that man can achieve salvation by governing their lives in a manner congruous with that of Jesus Christ. Of course, we all know how complicated it becomes when interpreting what is meant by following in his footsteps. All bets are off when what we’re arguing is whether or not being on Earth is merely another train station or the final destination.

Those conversations are largely what make Silence such a tough watch. Sure, the movie is violent and cruel in ways that you probably have never imagined, but it’s the stalemate we arrive at time and time again when neither party can convince the other. When no concessions can be made. What fuels emotional devastation is a combination of our steadily accrued respect for the priests and the narrative’s balanced perspective. It neither vilifies the Japanese nor glorifies Western influence. No party is entirely right and no party is completely off-base. We listen, we observe. We try to understand both views, though ultimately we are meant to empathize with one side more than the other.

Garfield, on the back of his portrayal of a similarly beleaguered soul in Mel Gibson’s tribute to real war-time hero Desmond Doss, essays a role for the ages as the Christ-like Father Rodrigues. Perhaps it’s worth noting how good Scorsese is in bringing out the absolute best in his actors, lest I lay too much at the foot of the budding British actor. Still, this is Garfield like I’ve never seen him before and it is an utterly heartbreaking performance that almost assuredly promises a nomination. Long gone it seems are the days of slinging webs in Manhattan.

If his co-star occupied the same amount of screen time, he too might’ve found himself on the ballot. Perhaps he still will. Driver’s contributions to the story, in particular that first third, are invaluable. Even though neither actor can quite convince us of their Portuguese descent — accents most notably slip when emotions run high — Driver in particular is good at reminding us of the flesh that lies beneath the cloth. He exudes self-doubt and vulnerability, at least more readily. Indeed, these are just men caught up in some extraordinary circumstances.

The mortality of these priests is what challenges us to really embrace the existential crisis at the heart of Silence. Scorsese of course is not asking the audience to do anything crazy like renounce their faith in a movie theater but he is challenging us to ponder ‘what if.’ That almost assuredly is the direction he gives his two leading men. What if what these priests are doing is actually causing more harm than good? What if you surrender everything you have known to be true for the sake of sparing others of their pain? Does self-doubt mean you have compromised everything? Does a simple physical act confirm what you feel in your heart?

Few of these questions come with answers. If we’re to pursue them, we’re better off trying post-viewing. That’s assuming answers are to be found at all. That kind of open-endedness could prove frustrating for some viewers, but I found it cathartic. Silence is a monumental achievement you have to experience for yourself, no matter what your beliefs are.

hero_silence-2016

5-0Recommendation: Whether you identify as devout, agnostic or atheist you owe it to yourself to see Martin Scorsese’s historical/religious epic. It is going to be one of the hardest movies you’ve ever tried watching but come the end of it you’ll be glad for the opportunity. As for replay value, however, Silence might prove less successful. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 161 mins.

Quoted: “I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.rogerebert.com 

Advertisements

39 thoughts on “Silence

  1. Pingback: Month in Review: January ’17 | Thomas J

      • 🙂

        keep up the good work bud. I apologise for not really being around like I used to be, but when I can get to a computer I always endeavour to catch up on your blog, and a few others, most notably Ruth @ flixchatter. I’ve written one review all year man. I don’t know what’s up with me at the moment.

        I did just see Split though, and I have some strong feelings about it so I think I’ll try to ease back into writing by writing about that. Seriously man, I have written one review this year. No poetry, no additions to my novel, no short stories, no lyrics, nothin! I need to get back into it, cos ultimately I want to finish my book, and the movie reviews are kind of a way to continue to practice writing while not working on the book – which is hard work cos its personal. That shit was traumatic, ya know?

        Sorry for the wall of rambling.

        peace

  2. Pingback: #OscarsSoPredictable | Thomas J

  3. I love Scorsese’s approach to film making, his variety of projects and the dedication of it all – you can see that in just how long it’s taken him to go from conception to production with this. Fantastic director!

    • Hi, thanks for the page visit! I agree with you 100%. There’s no one quite like Scorsese. His commitment to craft and story is remarkable. Silence might be one of my favorites of his.

  4. Great review! I recently posted my thoughts on this film. I had to watch it a second time and I still found myself wrestling with it. Apparently a lot of people are passing on it. Not many are talking about it and the Oscars all but ignored it.

    • Yeah I know, isn’t it a shame? To me it’s ridiculous. this has Best Pic written all over it. But I suppose it’s good it at least got a nod for cinematography.

      I saw that you loved this as much as I did. It was truly a moving experience. Haven’t seen anything like it in some time. And in the interest of comparisons, I think Silence is more convincing than Mel Gibson’s Passion. This *probably* wasn’t quite as difficult to watch as that, but at least Scorsese didn’t feel the need to bludgeon audiences with graphic violence for 2+ hours.

  5. It’s a damned shame that Silence got passed over in the Oscars; if ever a film would benefit from some Oscar talk it’s this. Such a great review mate; how many directors can get a film like this made by a big studio?

    • I can’t believe it either. I think that’s a huge snub. No category whatsoever. It’s almost as though Scorsese didn’t bother trying to get it picked up, maybe there wasn’t a push for it. I don’t know. But I do know this was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had in some time. Such a tough watch but man is it ever worthwhile. It’s most exciting I think because of what Andrew Garfield is doing with his career as of late. He is on a major rise!

    • Apparently it did, but only one — for cinematography (I think)! Outrageous! Though someone did point out to me that this movie was released quite late and it doesn’t exactly announce itself as a popular movie. But the Oscars don’t really have a “fan” vote — which in my opinion would make things far more interesting. (Or maybe not, if we are trying to, in fact, preserve the idea of artistic integrity.) Silence should be on the ballot for Best Pic in my view, it’s so brutal but so, so enlightening. I loved it. Thanks for stopping in man.

  6. “Marty’s new film is so tonally different from what he last put out it made me feel like I was atoning for all those good times I had with Jordan Belfort and company in his Wall Street-based bacchanalian. Silence is such a brutal watch I left the theater pining for them good old days of Leo snorting coke off of Margot Robbie’s chest. Fortunately Scorsese finds a way to make the suffering not only worthwhile but essential viewing.” That was one bad ass opening to your review, completely got me onboard. Will have to clear my schedule and see this film.

  7. Nice review Tom. I watched Silence a couple of weeks ago and I’m still processing the movie in my head, although upon an initial viewing I would say it’s Scorsese’s best and most interesting film for a very long time. I’ve enjoyed all, of Scorsese’s work in the past fifteen years, but for the most part those films are retreads of his past films. Silence really breaks away from that mold and although it takes upon the themes of Catholicism that dominated past Scorsese pieces, visually and aesthetically I don’t think the director has made anything quite like this beforehand.

    • Agreed, the whole film feels divorced from his street-crime focused dramas. Similar themes, different effect. In many ways I think this is the most difficult film I’ve had to watch in some time. But it’s so good.

      • I did not. Care for it, that is. I thought Marty brought up some interesting topics for discuss but didn’t do anything interesting with the ideas. The ending is particularly narratively muddled. It tested my faith…..in Martin Scorsese.

        • Wow! Really? Well, as always appreciate your candidness. That’s interesting to hear though. I thought the unbiased approach he took really allowed the audience to interpret things and make of the ordeal what they so please. But I can also see how his direction wasn’t interesting as much.

  8. You’re new rating system. 5.0 is that out of 5 or 10? I think I’m going to wait for this at home. 3 hours is a long time. It is a film that will require all my attention.

    • I’m going to post something soon about some of the things that have actually changed around here to let everyone know what’s up. But yes, I’ve adjusted my rating system to a 5-point scale. Funny, this is the first use of the new system and yet I’ve gone straight to a perfect score haha! Silence is just so good. It’s tough but I think a vital viewing experience. No one does movies quite like Scorsese.

        • Well, ya know, Silence is a fairly visual film as Scorsese likes to use the environment as both a thing of beauty and a threat, but in my view the one thing the film is more than visual is emotional. And I think it’s powerful enough that you won’t lose anything watching it on a smaller screen but yeah there is something about turning out to see one of his new movies. Case in point, I saw it at 10:30 on a Sunday night and yet there were 30 others (at least) in there with me, which i found surprising given the time and the day. But I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to catch in theaters. 😀

    • Zoe it is fantastic. I think you’ll really dig it.

      Yes the new system is a 5-point scale. No more silly pie ratings hehe

      • Awesome 🙂 Just want to make sure I am reading it all right hahaha.

        PS: I liked the pie system, but this will definitely be easier to read!

        • Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too. I mean, yeah it’s a less original set-up but I think it’s more traditional. Plus it’s going to allow me to apply a more diverse range of ‘ratings’ to my reviews (for whatever that’s worth. I suspect most people don’t even pay attention to the final score bit.)

          • Well, for me the final score bit is the most important, because it summarises EXACTLY what the reviewer thought 🙂 But that’s just me. And Natasha. xD

  9. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am shocked how good an actor Andrew Garfield is. I think he will go big.
    Sounds like a really thought provoking film, I will check it out when I get my hands on it!

    • Him starring in a Martin Scorsese picture I think says a lot about what he’s managed to accomplish in a relatively short amount of time. So far gone are the days of Spidey it’s hard to believe. This is a role that I think tops what he did in Hacksaw Ridge.

      I’d love to hear what you think of this one!

Comments are closed.