Martin Scorsese’s latest passion project is a masterpiece far removed from the rest of his career.
When reviewing a film most writers very rarely talk about the audience reaction, unless they’re at a film festival. There are many reasons for this: the procurement of screeners, a level of enjoyment, or concentration that eliminates the reactions of anyone else, or the fact that it’s simply unclear how a group of people as a whole have reacted to something. This wasn’t the case for me while watching Silence. Never before has a film made me pay just as much attention to what was happening around me as I was also paying attention to the screen. The fact is the audience that I shared this experience with, and it was an experience, was a perfect microcosm of the critical reaction that the film has gathered thus far. I witnessed five walkouts, four due to obvious boredom as fans of the director’s flashier films realised what a terrible mistake they had made, and one due to someone who had broken down in tears at a moment of religious violence, removing themselves so as not to disrupt the rest of us any further. Finally, once the film ended, there was no talking, no murmurings of “well, what did you think?”, or laughter, or the pings of phones being turned back on, just, fittingly, silence.
Silence has been in the works for about a quarter of a decade, with Scorsese frequently putting it off to make films like his Leo collaborations, among others, instead. Yet it was always at the back of his mind, and at great cost, the great director wouldn’t let go of the rights to the project. It’s a film that symbolises the twin pillars of his life: film and faith, and may be his finest cinematic work since Goodfellas all those years ago.
In 17th century Japan Christianity has been outlawed, with many priests being persecuted and killed due to the religions threat to the country’s native Buddhism. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play two Portuguese priests that are tasked with entering Japan, at their own risk, to find their former mentor, played by Liam Nesson, (doing some proper acting for the first time in years), amid rumours that he has given up his faith.
The film is undoubtedly a religious epic, with its punishing runtime, and its weighty themes, but Scorsese handles it all with a deft hand while holding back his usual bag of tricks. Instead he uses his camera sparingly, letting the locations speak for themselves, there are some truly startling images of religious persecution but the violence is never exploitative, with the true horror being what the violence symbolises, rather than the act itself.
It helps then that we see the film through the eyes of Andrew Garfield’s Father Rodriguez, a devout man, yet selfish about his own kindness. Garfield’s casting is a masterstroke as he has a delicacy to him, an inherent goodness that can help you understand his devoutness, even when it shows signs of contradiction. Through his character Scorsese, and co-writer Jay Crooks, put in some healthy questioning of a religion whose faith has violence threaded through it, with its disciples seen dying for it, or the personification of it as Rodriguez is to the many Japanese villagers who believe in God, are willing to die for him. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to question the arrogance of Garfield’s character, which is filled with pride at the help he has brought these people, which then turns to calamity, and arrogant comparisons of his suffering to that of Christ’s. What’s really amazing though is that the actor has Oscar buzz for Hacksaw Ridge and not this.
Silence is a difficult film, you won’t enjoy it, but you will be utterly compelled by it, and ultimately rewarded by it. For all of Scorsese’s fascination with the darker side of human nature, Silence finds the light from the unlikeliest of subject matter.
Silence is in Cinemas now.