Friday, January 6, 2017

A Reel Review: SILENCE

In 1990, 48 year-old director Martin Scorsese read the 1966 novel Silence, written by Shusaku Endo, and was deeply moved by what he read. Over the decades, his efforts to bring the story to the big screen were met with legal challenges and disputes, and several starts and stops. In 2016, Scorsese, now at the age of 74, has finally brought SILENCE to life…and the timing could not be better.

Two 16th century Jesuit missionaries; Sebastiao (Andrew Garfield), and Francisco (Adam Driver), make a dangerous journey to feudal Japan, where Christianity is outlawed and their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), is rumored to have renounced his faith.

For SILENCE, the backdrop is essential in the storytelling. This is a Japan where Christians; either converts or preachers, are hunted down and brutally tortured unless they renounce their faith. Martin Scorsese puts in careful work in establishing this country where humble peasants who basically live in mud look at Christianity and the two missionaries as their sole hope, despite the threat of torture from the Japanese authorities (led by The Inquisitor, played by Issey Ogata), which ranges from being burned alive to being sprinkled with boiling water to being crucified at sea during high tide. Eventually, the presence of the two padres draws the attention of The Inquisitor, and the two missionaries are left with the hard choice of renouncing their own faith or watch the faithful villagers be destroyed.

It’s a battle of wills with faith as the battlefield, and Scorsese builds layer upon layer of examining a person’s faith when faced against incredible and horrible odds. It’s a look at human belief more than a God-preaching film; raising many questions about what really resides inside us to make us do what we do every day. Aside from the layers of thought, Scorsese also makes the brilliant choice of portraying the Japanese authorities not as God-hating men, but as sincere countrymen who simply want to guard and preserve their old culture. The question of whether or not the Jesuits should have even been there in the first place is raised often, and Scorsese lets us draw our own conclusions.

The most shocking aspect of SILENCE is just how (ahem) quiet the film is. Gone is the bombastic music and obnoxious characters which have populated Scorsese’s films in the past decade, and instead we get a patient and steady hand…with easy going speaking and gentle shots of the countryside. The scenes of torture and killing are brutal, but the film displays the patience of a mature filmmaker. Scenes develop slowly and give us time to ponder, and with a sparse score replaced by ambient sounds of the countryside, has a very natural feel.

Acting is outstanding. Our three priests hail from Portugal and their accents seem to come and go, but more than make up for it with the work they have to do in selling their characters. Andrew Garfield is the true standout, showing a lot of inner turmoil and it’s clear that this is the film that moves him into the upper echelon of cinema. Adam Driver is equally effective, and both he and Garfield look like they starved themselves to achieve the look of two men living on scraps of fish and rice. Liam Neeson has an outstanding moment of pain when the time comes for him to renounce, and Ciaran Hinds is excellent in his limited time. The Japanese cast, including (but not limited to) Issey Ogata, Yosuke Kubozuka, and Tadanobu Asano are all very good.

The title of the film refers to the lack of, or complete absence of direct answers from God as the desperate characters call for help, and that hangs over the film at all times. Scorsese offers a lot of profound thought in SILENCE, and it seems fitting that he couldn’t make this film until he was in his 70’s, as it has the touch of a filmmaker, and man who has been around a long time and can ask the hard questions about faith that resonate in us. SILENCE is a punishing film as it asks the audience to endure a lot, and it offers so much to think about that it can be examined and thought about for another 20 years before being fully understood. If ever. That is a mark of greatness.


No comments:

Post a Comment

A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.