Silence has never been so deafening.
It was in 1988 after the premiere of Scorsese’s controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ made its debut, that the story of Silence entered the director’s consciousness where it remained for thirty years. Several attempts were made over the years to make the Silence novel, written by Shūsaku Endō, into a film but it wasn’t until recently that Scorsese’s hopes became reality and Silence became what it is.
Silence in many ways is one of the director’s most reserved films as it focuses heavily on thought and inner turmoil. There is great influence from the outside world that bores itself into the minds of these characters but in the end it all comes down to them, what they believe despite everything demanding otherwise. It is about the strain and burden of faith and that interpretation of the concept of silence isn’t simply a lack of sound. It can be an opportunity to listen, a chance to examine oneself. But make no mistake, this is Martin Scorsese we’re talking about. The violence is present and it is unquestionably brutal. Physically and mentally, Silence is a grim and unrelenting look into abhorrent actions towards those who, when it was all said and done, were simply different. Those committing the actions would argue that the very existence of this “plague” or more commonly known as, Christians, were a danger to the continuation and prosperity of mid 1600’s Japan.
A swamp, as they called Japan, was a place where no outside influence or growth could survive. Only that which already was, in this case Buddhism, could live on. God and all that name represented was unlawful and punishable by death. Despite this grave threat, priests still risked life and limb to spread Christianity throughout Japan. This brought about immense paranoia and betrayal, themes often present in Scorsese films.
His characters are frequently replete with large egos and narrow views of the world around them. It usually takes great, forceful clout to metaphorically open the eyes of the protagonist or in the case of Scorsese films, the main character who isn’t always the hero of the story. This is an examination of faith and the limits of mankind’s affinity to believe in something that relies so much on that belief without proof. To endure all that these people did in order to spread the word of Christianity was either a sign of a true believer, to continue on despite the all but guaranteed ignominious end that awaited the unwavering Christian; or it was the sign of someone who put themselves in the place of Christ rather than at his side. They often lost sight of their purpose tending to confuse follower’s belief in God for belief in them as priests.
It also brings up the interpretation of the religion itself. Does everyone view it the same way, the right way? What is the right way? Many during this time believed the followers of Christianity weren’t believers in a God but rather believers in the priests and the promise of something better. Something the priests could not provide. Their belief, as some saw it, was blinded by the false glow of the priests they confided so much in. Were they following a priest who found the ability to remove themselves and act as a vessel between follower and deity as is their true purpose, or were these priests lost in the power of false prophets. The priests’ belief in God was real, but their belief in their own importance brought up questions of misguided faith.
Beyond fear of physical abuse, the Christians of Japan feared the loss of God’s embrace. All that was asked of them was to deny God and all of their transgressions against Japan would be forgiven. A simple enough task to a non-believer but to a Christian during this time, unthinkable. Burning, drowning, death itself awaited those unwilling to apostate and yet hundreds of thousands met their demise for God. Were the deaths in the name of a God that exists or a false, imaginary ghost? Each follower had to face this unanswerable question with often dire results.
This is not typical Scorsese territory. This is a passion project of his thirty years in the making. Silence is a long, arduous journey into the realm of religion and faith. It is at times difficult to accept everything without your own biases but to truly appreciate this film, it’s important to listen first, then contemplate and maybe even disagree if you must. The cinematography is of course meticulous and spectacular as each shot is there for a reason. Andrew Garfield proves once again of his acting prowess and ability to confidently carry a film, even one of this weight. Poignant acting, honest storytelling, good old-fashioned filmmaking meld together to make one of the most stark, unflinching looks at Christianity and its consequences, self-inflicted or not. This is not for everyone, but I would say if only to expand your horizons a bit, give this near three hour journey an honest and fair chance. It may surprise you, it may bore you to tears but I believe either of these results will bring about their own versions of contemplation in each viewer. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. I for one loved this film and am grateful for the questions it forced me to ask of myself.
Rated R For: some violent disturbing content
Runtime: 161 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Drama, History
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Yôsuke Kubozuka
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 5/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 5/ Visuals: 5
OVERALL: 5 Nerdskulls
Check out the trailer below:
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