Silence Review: An Intense, And Thought-Provoking Masterpiece
Silence has been in the works for over two decades, and it shows. Martin Scorsese has stated that he has wanted to make this film for twenty years, but believed that he lacked the skill to accomplish the task. Upon seeing the film, it is easy to see what he meant. Silence is a film that requires impeccable direction, not just to make it great, but to make it entertaining. The film is a slow, and brutal piece that draws faiths of all kinds into question, and without talent like Martin Scorsese it would have fallen flat. It lives up to its title, and is a very quiet and reserved film. But even in its silence, it does not hesitate to show the brutality that occurred in Japan, but it doesn’t show torture for the sake of torture. Every violent scene has a purpose, and serves to impact its audience rather than to merely shock them. Silence is not an easy film to get through, but for those who are willing to invest themselves into the story and pay attention to the plot, it is an incredibly rewarding and masterful experience.
Silence takes place in the seventeenth century, and focuses on two Catholic priests journeying to Japan to contact a priest who publicly renounced his faith.
Over a century before Silence takes place, Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation in Europe, and the Catholic Church, especially a group within them known as the Jesuits, made forceful attempts to spread the Catholic faith into non-Christian lands. They made attempts in the east, within nations such as China, but found true success in Japan.
Decades later, the Catholic faith is crumbling, and that is the burden weighing on the two protagonists: not only must they find the fallen priest, known as father Ferreira, but the entire Christian faith in Japan rests on their shoulders. They are spreading their faith in a country that, at the moment, wants nothing to do with the Catholic religion. Thus, everyone they educate and preach to is targeted by the government. The recent immigration related executive order reminds us that we should guard against religious intolerance that has still not faded, even if it has been calmed.
With a premise such as this it would have been easy to paint the two priests as heroes and the non-Christian Japanese as villains, but Scorsese decided to go in a different direction. At times, the film highly scrutinizes the two leads for spreading their faith in a country with entirely different beliefs, and placing their followers in danger. Every Catholic character knows that by believing in Catholicism, and by spreading their faith, they are placing themselves and others into high danger.
That is the true grace and brilliance of Silence: by not completely painting the story as a battle between good and evil, the true effect of the story sinks into the audience. This is what films like God’s Not Dead 2 do not understand: if a film preaches a black and white picture, it will not change anyone’s mind. Those who walked in with certain beliefs will either see themselves portrayed as heroes, and have their faith maintained, or see themselves portrayed as villains, and reject anything the film might have to say.
Silence doesn’t pick sides. It does show the cruelty that the Christian Japanese experienced, but it also takes some issue with the fact that the Jesuits spread their beliefs in a place where they knew the converts would be persecuted.
The film also asks the question of whether or not God listens, or even exists. Ask anyone who has prayed, regardless of faith, and they will tell you that they are constantly greeted by silence. The two priests, and Andrew Garfield’s character in particular, pray to God during moments of hardship, and are truly confronted with the darkness of hearing nothing but silence in return. The fact that they hear nothing in a moment of crisis puts their entire faith into greater question.
Silence puts religion under a microscope, and asks questions that many films are afraid to present. It does not truly answer whether the Christian God is true beyond other religions, and its more supernatural elements are ambiguous at best. Even the moments that may seem mythical can be attributed to human madness. By asking important questions, and refusing to answer them, Silence slides its way into your head, and does not leave you the same as it found you.
And while Martin Scorsese’s script shines, his direction is equally brilliant. The film looks breathtaking at times, which is an astonishing feat considering that many scenes take place in small, closed off locations. Rather than attempt sweeping, epic shots like The Lord of the Rings films, Silence stays closer to the ground and presents a realistic, convincing setting that still looks breathtaking.
The performances are also amazing. Adam Driver and Liam Neeson deliver great performances, but Andrew Garfield is easily the film’s standout. We systematically see him go from a confident priest to a broken man over the course of nearly three hours, and his descent into madness and misery is so well acted that it deserves far more recognition that it is currently receiving.
In fact, Silence deserves far more accolades than it has received thus far. The film cost 40 million dollars to make, and so far has grossed only 7 million. Although this saddens me, it isn’t difficult to see why. Silence doesn’t chose sides, but by not doing so it alienates large sections of film-goers who do not want to question their beliefs.
The only time I could see this film was on Saturday night at 10:10 pm, and it was the only theater within hours playing the film. Although good films often do well at the box office and receive all sorts of praise, there are occasional films that find themselves in this position. For those of you who appreciate a challenging and complex film, I implore you to see this film. It has been completely shut out of the Oscars, aside from a nod for cinematography, and very few people are currently mentioning it.
Films should challenge their audience, something I wrote an entire editorial on (click here to read it), which is why situations like this depress me. When films like this do not make their money back, it frightens me deeply because it shows me that audiences do not want risky filmmaking. However, if the film is still playing near you, you can be part of the group that helps change that.