As promised and mentioned in last week’s review, this week’s film of focus is Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Initially, I hesitated upon noticing this flick was a length film. But then I remembered that I had promised this flick for this week, (D’oh!), and realized I had no choice. Aha. Anyways, I had no expectations or any of that sort upon deciding to watch this film. The bright side that allowed me to endure nearly 3 long hours of film? Honestly, I figured, “Scorsese and Neeson? Eh, sure. I’ll give it a try.”
Silence, based on a true story, follows two 17th-century Portuguese missionaries, Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), who embark on a perilous journey to Japan both in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson), and hold hopes to spread their divine religion as well. Once in Japan, the two men find themselves ministering to the Christian villagers who worship in secret. But how long can this go on for? For if they are caught by officials, they must renounce their faith or face a long and agonizing death. And in the midst of this journey, just how long can their faith in a silent God remain?
“I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?”
One of the biggest aspects that repeatedly catapulted itself in my face was Scorsese’s choice of cinematography. I mean—HOT BANANAS, was it depressing, yet mesmerizingly dreamy. What do I mean by—well—the whole sentence? Well wee, little gopniks, Scorsese cleverly places an emphasis on earthly scenery in his camera angles with a smaller focus being on people using a wide, horizontal view. Think rolls of rural green, majestic ocean waves crashing against the rocky cliffs, caves, and shores, etc. in a lovely Japanese setting. But not only are the shots beautiful, but they also highlight the Japanese’ beliefs in their oneness with nature and the value they place in that as well. Furthermore, Scorsese tints his film with a blue hue, setting the tone for the film: a progressive dreary journey with an increasingly painfully bleak light at the end of the tunnel that the audience can’t help but empathize with. Frankly, the cinematography is a work of art and I can certainly see why it was featured at this year’s Oscars.
The second aspect that stood out to me was the internal dialogue featured in the film. I honestly don’t
pay attention to the delivery and or style of dialogue all that quite often. But over here, it speaks to you. Scorsese implements clever dialogue that reveals the inner workings of Rodrigues and highlights his internal struggle of faith he finds himself fighting against; He asks questions that a real-life human being ponders and is afraid to ask out of fear of harsh judgement by his or her peers. What’s more, his thoughts reveal a complex underground that delves deeper into underlying issues and pillars of society. And what’s more, it sounds poetic. An example is the issue of faith amongst the Christian villagers and how Rodrigues asks himself whether their awe towards him was illustrating faith or whether it was desperation that manifested itself in the search of the presence of any signs of faith within their society. But also problems the individual experiences—such as the wavering of faith, the challenging of lines of thought in faith, the arrogance of faith, being good towards those who do you harm, and how to help others in hardships. Truly deep, yet realistic stuff here.
“I worry, they value these poor signs of faith more than faith itself. But how can we deny them?”
Speaking of faith, that moves us over to the content of the plot. The initial focus of the film in
attempting to find Neeson’s character quickly becomes a second feature of the film. Rather, the film is more about the spiritual journey and the struggle of remaining firm in faith and helping others to accomplish those goals as well. It’s the mystery of the human condition in being able to suffer in dedication and persevere towards one’s religious beliefs; It can also be seen as a journey of religious freedom, (sorry action-lovers). So far, the story sounds simple right? See, that’s where Scorsese’s impressive story-crafting abilities kick in. He allows the viewer to empathize with the pain of multiple struggling characters—and I mean, you really feel your heart tugging and pounding at you, unable to withstand this terrible treatment of humanity. Scorsese’s storytelling elicits empathy and causes you to care for the characters even if you don’t care for that religion in the first place. An example would be simple acts of blasphemy that cause the viewer to cringe and internally writhe with sympathetic melancholy—namely being forced to slowly step on a religious artifact of your cherished beliefs. Ouch. I’ll be honest, enduring the entire movie is painful; it isn’t a trip to the candy shop, (no not the song). But this just shows that Scorsese’s got some powerful storytelling—at least in this flick if you generally disagree with me. Storytelling—and acting, mind you, (which I’ll be getting to in the next paragraph).
Acting in the film: Liam Neeson was great as always; I hadn’t expected anything less of him. But prior to this movie, I’ll admit that I hadn’t seen a film with Andrew Garfield in it. I knew who Andrew Garfield was, but I didn’t bother watching anything with him in it, (no it wasn’t because of my petty-minded thoughts towards the 2012 Spiderman 😉). Anyways, I’m happy to say that I will be certainly watching more of Garfield’s films after this flick. Sure, his flip-floppity accent was a weak spot, (I had forgotten that he was supposed to be Portuguese and was frankly confused about what nationality he was trying to portray). But he ultimately redeems himself with body language and his facial expressions of agonizing emotional and psychological pain; he proves himself as a dramatic actor. Good for you still-not-the-real-Spiderman. Good for you 😝
“The price for your glory is their suffering!”
Moving on to one of the messages of the film, (just because I really admired it): One’s belief doesn’t have to be strictly classified as overt. Rather, one’s connection of faith can be hidden from the world yet remain fiery and electric between the creation and its creator. It can reside within you and your personal relationship with your deity.
The only thing I can say Scorsese could have done better was in the plot progression. The beginning plot progression was just right in continually carrying the storyline forward. But then starting around halfway through the film, it begins to slow down into one long dreary emotional hell that Rodrigues endures—and that you’ll experience in finding yourself asking the lord for patience 😉 I’m joking. But seriously, the film begins to just drift around into one giant empathy-eliciting tunnel–and a depressing one at that. I felt like this film was meant to resonate more with the audience emotionally rather than receive praise for its storyline progression. Alhough the spiritual struggle is captured near-perfectly in this film, the nearly three-hour film could’ve been cut down. At least when I noticed myself reaching over for my phone-at least a little.
“There’s a saying in here: “Mountains and rivers can be moved but men’s nature cannot be moved.”
Final Thoughts: Silence is a unique, thought-provoking exploration of the human condition, faith, and the extent of how far the two can intertwine. While some of you may be fascinated by this, allow me to put it bluntly for those of you who can’t understand what I’m rambling about: don’t expect something happy and a cupcakes-and-unicorns-type atmosphere. Get ready to be put through an empathetic hell with a cloud of grey above keeping you submerged within this tunnel of complex ideas and emotion. Action-lovers, I don’t think you’ll enjoy this unless you enjoy being intellectually challenged.
Genre: Historical Drama
Time: 2 hours, 41 minutes
– Story Progression: C+
–Build-up of Emotion; Internal Faith Conflict; Theme: A
Overall: B / 7.5 out of 10