A buzzing noise begins to permeate the theater, catching a handful of critics by surprise. Slowly the buzz starts to escalate and just as it reaches the crescendo, it stops. Silence spreads throughout the room. At first, the quiet seems like a mere formality to the movie starting, but the nothingness continues and appears to envelop everyone in the theater. It was at this moment that director Martin Scorsese had his hooks in; Silence is unlike any film I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.
To label Scorsese’s latest film a sensation would seem to be an injustice to the artistry which unfolds. Silence is an uplifting look at the power of Faith that takes audiences on a journey through the heights of human suffering, and doesn’t seek to answer any questions – just create new ones.
Martin Scorsese has been working on this film for decades. It’s narrative stems from the novel written by Shûsaku Endô about 17th century Japan outlawing Christianity and Jesuit priests suffering in the name of faith. Scorsese takes an atypical, simplistic approach. Instead of allowing the film’s score to dominate the film in places, he utilizes the sounds of nature, the sounds of the inquisitor approaching a village, and the sounds of human suffering (ex- broken bones, screams of agony, flesh being burnt) in its place. Silence is a film that’s not for the faint of heart. It appears Scorsese’s mission here is to keep the audiences primary focus on the heart of this incredible story.
A missing Portuguese priest (Liam Nesson) has been rumored to be captured while on a missionary trip to Japan and forced to denounce Christ. Two priests, who Father Cristóvão Ferreira mentored, seek to follow his trail and rescue him from his captors. Father Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) hope that the reports of his apostasy are erroneous and nothing more than a rumor.
Powered by nothing other than their faith, Father Garrpe and Father Rodrigues manage to sneak into Japan and are welcomed by sights of Christians being burned alive and tortured on crosses for their beliefs. Some may have left after witnessing these type of atrocities, but these priests press on in hopes of finding Father Ferreira and spreading the word of God.
The farther the priests push into Japan, the more their safety is in danger. Villagers begin to warn them of people who turn in Christians at the behest of the religious inquisitors with promises of 300 silver pieces. Father Garrpe and Father Rodrigues make a decision that it would be best for them to split to evade capture, which proves to be wise.
The story quickly pivots from a tale of men spreading the word of God to a story about the power faith has in each of us. Father Rodrigues is forced into a wooden cage and forced to bear witness to the torture of Japanese Christians. On the surface, this appears to be something cruel to torture him before his inevitable execution. We quickly realize that Inquisitors have every intention of keeping him alive and want to push him towards denouncing Jesus Christ as word of a Christian priest denouncing his faith would spread throughout the country. Rodrigues refuses and is forced to witness countless atrocities that would break the strongest of men. How long can he keep his faith with blood being spilled and torture occurring to innocent men and women daily?
Screenwriters Jay Cocks, working closely with Scorsese, find a way to weave in the Japanese perspective; Father Rodrigues has some interactions with Inoue Masashige (Issei Ogata) who happens to be an official in charge of this religious cleansing. He explains to the Father that the Japanese people won’t take root in its culture (he describes Japan as a swamp) because Buddhism already has. He adds that they don’t condone this violence, but this is the only way to make their point. Both screenwriters avoid turning this narrative into a sermon for audiences. They understand that to do so would demean the heroism of both Father Sebastião Rodrigues and Francisco Garrpe.
The cinematography in the film is equal parts patient and scintillating. Scorsese allows images of the cleansing and human suffering to substitute for what could have been chunks of dialogue. What needs to be added after witnessing a Japanese Christian drown on a cross because of his faith? By allowing these images to stand alone, they are that much more impactful and meaningful as well.
Andrew Garfield reinforces the idea that he’s one of the best actors in Hollywood with a performance that is gut-wrenching and could get him nominated for best actor when the Oscar finalists are announced on Jan. 26th. But it’s easy to see that Scorsese didn’t make this movie to win a bunch of awards. He made this movie to provide audiences with an experience unlike any other, and he accomplished that.