Silence – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Jay Cocks (screenplay), Martin Scorsese (screenplay)
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson
The struggle of Jesuit Priests attempting to spread Christianity across 17th Century Japan was never going to be an easy watch; but that is exactly what Martin Scorsese’s passion project Silence explores. Finally premiering at the Vatican in November, and released here on New Year’s Day; this has been a long journey for the director, who initially gained the rights of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name back in 1990.
The film focuses Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver), two Portuguese priests who venture into Japan in search of their lost mentor Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), after receiving word that he has been forced to apostatize (publicly renounce his faith.) Their confidence and faith in the mission are quickly challenged after arrival; discovering hidden communities of Christian converts who face unspeakable torture from the authorities if their faith is discovered. The two men are more than willing to die for their faith, but the dreaded Inquisitor ((Issey Ogata) has a far more challenging plan to break them: He instead forces the priests to watch the torture and death of the local converts they are unable to protect.
What should be a fascinating exploration of religious belief sadly remains too academic to convey any real emotion to the audience; with a tortuously thoughtful pace which may engage the intellect but fails to ignite any feeling. It may have interesting points, but we remain on the outside; admiring the film’s (undeniably stunning) aesthetics while remaining oddly passive, even in key dramatic scenes. Garfield, Driver, and Neeson give strong performances; but struggle to convey inner turmoil without the interior monologue afforded in the original novel. This is exacerbated by uneven accents, which never allow the actors to disappear into the characters they attempt to portray.
The uncomfortable position of the audience is further emphasised by the portrayal of local people as ‘other’: The two priests absolve sins without understanding what is being confessed; Japan is portrayed as a ‘swamp’ in which new ideas cannot take root; and both the shrill Inquisitor, and the ‘Judas’ figure of Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka) who repeatedly betrays, apostatizes, and returns for absolution; border on caricature rather than real characters. With cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and designer Dante Ferretti creating stunning visuals full of ageless misty landscapes and haunting ritual torture; Silence is no doubt a beautifully crafted film, but it fails to instil in the audience any of the passion that should be at the core of such a tale. Ultimately there is something empty and indulgent about what aims to be a harrowing piece of cinema; and audience members will be left with the same longing for Divine meaning as Father Rodrigues; but like him, may be left with only Silence.