Year: 2016
Director(s): Martin Scorsese
Writer(s): Jay Cocks, Shusaku Endo
Region of Origin: US

Rating: R
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
35mm, Color, 161 mins

Synopsis: In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Catholicism. (Source)

Whether we acknowledge it or not, it’s our search for meaning that drives each decision we make. This primal need for purpose is the cornerstone of our very being, making us who we are and outlining the ideals we strive to live by. Within the context of faith in a higher power, this idea is much more precise, and it’s what director Martin Scorsese amplifies in Silence. By adapting Shusaku Endo’s historical fiction to the big screen, Scorsese has crafted both his most restrained and deafening film yet, a look at the very nature of spirituality, and the delicate balance between crippling doubt and blinding resolve. Broad in scope yet inescapable and intimate, Scorsese questions whether deep belief can truly strive without uncertainty, and whether good can exist without evil. It’s deep stuff, resulting in a film that really washes over us and haunts even after its over.

In 17th century Japan, Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) goes missing as legend of his apostasy spreads back to the church. Accepting the rumors about Ferreira as heresy, two Portuguese Jesuit priests named Sebastiao Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) vow to clear their mentor’s name. Traveling to Japan despite certain persecution and even the threat of death, Rodrigues and Garrpe navigate oppression and a tumultuous political climate which seeks to quash all signs of Christianity. The priests bond with locals who seek God in secret, but things spin out of control when their faith is exposed, sending many around them into a life of captivity and torture. As the Japanese authorities seek accountability from Rodrigues and Garrpe, the two are forced to choose between a God who remains mysteriously silent and the innocent lives that look to them for spiritual guidance.

Scorsese’s biggest asset is immersion, plunging us headfirst into his characters’ psychological and spiritual struggles. Scorsese takes his time, with a languid, dreamlike pace that slowly builds unease and tension by gradually flipping an outsiders’ perspective of hope with an intimate experience of mental and physical anguish. At any given moment, we truly feel that we’re alongside his characters, experiencing the joy of their forbidden fellowship, and then the torment of having their solidarity taken away and even mocked. For Rodrigues and Garrpe, the struggle is two-fold, as their mental stability becomes strained and they begin to question their own motives as they weigh the good of those they feel responsible for. Through the film is a progressively grueling one to stomach, Scorsese is as reverent as he can be, allowing us to bring our own experiences to the film, but placing slivers of hope within the details. In my opinion, this is ultimately an uplifting film, one that uses horror to find grace, yet it can be read in a myriad of ways, dissecting the elusive nature of truth and the intangible ideas we cling so tightly to.

Taking the film’s ideas even further, is a cast who gives their all. As Sebastiao Rodrigues, Andrew Garfield anchors the majority of the film, acting as its heart and also its biggest skeptic. Garfield has a very specific transformation throughout, one that balances unwavering commitment with overwhelming guilt and confusion, but he is exactly what the film needs, rendering its themes in ways that are relatable, yet abstract. As Garrpe, Adam Driver delivers an externalized performance that contrasts to Garfield, even with lesser screen time. Though we see him from afar, he makes a great impact calling out moral implications and responsibility with ease. Standing in as the film’s catalyst, Liam Neeson’s Ferreira lends the film gravitas and sensitivity. On the Japanese side, Yosuke Kubozuka’s Kichijiro is a heartbreaking casualty who struggles with spiritual infidelity, while Issey Ogata is a towering presence who straddles the line between insidious evil and patient captor. The story’s shades of grey are well defined through these performers and more, with roles that will no doubt add even more texture upon repeated viewings.

Silence is operatic yet primal, a film that speaks to common decency and the power of belief. It would be reductive to try and simplify the film to just a few ideas, when really, Scorsese has tapped deep into our subconscious fears and innate drives. Still, it’s refreshing to see a film use the idea of faith and God as its base, asking fascinating questions about existence with delicacy and a nonjudgemental perspective. With his latest, Scorsese touches upon the ways we build prisons for ourselves, but also how we find ways to survive and persevere in the face of absolute uncertainty.