Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Issei Ogata, Shin’ya Tsukamoto
Martin Scorsese’s passion project, for what has been supposedly the last two decades, is finally here. The subject of many lawsuits for Scorsese as he continued to delay the making of this film, to make other great films such as ‘The Aviator’, ‘Gangs of New York’, and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, and every movie in between. ‘Silence’ is the film that Scorsese felt he wasn’t experienced enough to make, or simply not in the right state of mind to direct. So after decades of waiting, it’s finally here, and whilst in my opinion it is not quite worth a twenty year wait, it does place itself on a rather selective list of movies that everyone should see at least once.
‘Silence’ stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson in a story of two European Jesuit priests, Garfield and Driver, that travel to feudal Japan in order to spread the faith despite intense religious persecution on the part of the Japanese, as well as finding their mentor, Neeson’s Father Ferreira, who has supposedly given up the faith. The film takes place in the 1600s and has a total run-time of 161 minutes.
After reading the plot summary, you may be thinking that this film isn’t going to be enjoyable for you, because it’s heavily involved with religious themes. Trust me, from someone that has written essays on questioning religion and not adhering to it, this film is for everyone on both sides of the belief spectrum. The boldness that Scorsese uses in his direction of this conflict, one side heavily opposed to the idea of Christianity, with the other trying to preach it as much as possible, is breathtaking. It doesn’t ever feel preachy or heavy-handed. It never comes across as pretentious. The simplicity of the topic and its either-or dynamic in the conversations held by the characters is what helps to make this film so complex. There should be no misunderstanding, this is a tough film to watch. Its run-time and brutal content combine to provide an experience for film-goers that promises to be both enlightening and haunting.
The performances and characterisations are the best aspects of this movie. Andrew Garfield’s performance as Father Rodrigues is truly Oscar-worthy. This film proves to me that Andrew Garfield is more than just a lame version of Spider-Man, he is an incredible actor, and his range in this movie further demonstrates this. He goes through every emotion, starting the film with an optimistic and bright demeanour, and by the end, he is a broken shell of his former self. I found noticeable parallels of his character arc with the trials and tribulations of Jesus, and I’m sure that that particular metaphor was the easiest to recognise aside from the literal usage of the concept of ‘Silence’ itself. The film truly is meaningful and not without purpose in its usage of imagery and analogy. However, just because something has meaning and metaphor does not grant it a perfect score.
Unfortunately, Scorsese’s passion bleeds into this project a little too much. The editing is slow, which creates unnecessary additions to an already enormous run-time. I don’t mind long movies, but I do mind repetition to an extent that it becomes boring to watch. This mostly comes through in the scenes where Andrew Garfield has conversations with the Japanese concerning the role Christianity could play in its culture. While I understand why there are so many similar scenes, I didn’t find it to be informative, but rather trying my patience. There’s also repetitive shots, not like repeating imagery, but an actual repeating shot. It’s an error ‘Gods of Egypt’ made, which is not a good comparison.
Aside from technical aspects of the film, ‘Silence’ has few errors. The awe-inspiring performances from everyone in the cast creates a multitude of interesting characters, but that doesn’t mean that all of the characters are likeable. There’s one specific recurring character, the Judas of the story, who got on my nerves so much that every time he appeared on screen, my enjoyment factor went down by a significant amount. The character itself was fascinating, and his subplot is very important to the main narrative, but ultimately he noticeably stood out as one of my least favourite parts of the overall film.
In summation, ‘Silence’ is a tough film. I tried to remain as spoiler-free as possible, but writing about it was tough, and watching it was tough. When I said that there’s intense religious persecution in the film, the scenes where it’s nothing but torture and pain onscreen make for the most captivating parts of the film. ‘Silence’ has moments where it feels like the next potential classic, but its shortcomings keep it from ever reaching the point of a “masterpiece film.”