Silence (R) ★★★★

“Silence” stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Have Faith in Silence

For living legend Martin Scorsese, who spent nearly 30 years trying to get this film made and even contemplated joining the priesthood, it would be an understatement to call Silence a passion project. A film about religious missionaries in 1630s Japan doesn’t exactly spell huge box office hit and likely required all of Scorsese’s industry clout to even be created. Although this movie may not be for everyone, audiences will witness an utterly unique and thought-provoking look at faith, and how much one is willing to sacrifice for it.

This historic drama opens with the voice of Fr. Ferreira (Liam Neeson, A Monster Calls, 2016) narrating his own letter describing the brutal conditions for Japanese Christians. It is 1635, and Christianity has been outlawed across the country. An already difficult situation has only worsened as Christians and priests are now being tortured and executed if they do not apostatize (“deny their faith”). The story then cuts to seven years later at a Jesuit College in Macau, a Portuguese colony in Asia, where two young priests, Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge, 2016) and Fr. Garupe (Adam Driver, Paterson, 2016) meet with an older colleague, Fr. Valignano (Ciarán Hinds, Bleed For This, 2016). The group gathers to discuss the letter from Fr. Ferreira, who was a mentor to the young priests and a leading figure amongst the Catholic community in Japan. After finishing the letter, Valignano says he heard more news from Dutch traders that said Fr. Ferreira has given up the faith, leaving no more priests in Japan. Upon hearing the update, Fr. Rodrigues and Garupe are in utter disbelief, and despite death threats for priests, they decide it is their mission to uncover the truth.

Silence is a very thought-provoking film that digs deep into the issues of faith and conviction like no other film of its kind. From a visual standpoint, Scorsese brilliantly balances the beauty of Japan with the struggles that the Christians must endure. Although the few torture scenes are difficult to watch, they are not gratuitously violent or excessive, but rather convey to the audience the conviction and strength of the characters that bear it.

In order to get to Japan, the two young priests (who are referred to as Padres) will have to be smuggled into the country. The priests are to be guided by Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka, Z-Island, 2015), a Japanese exile and lapsed Christian who they find on the floor of a bar in Macau. Despite their lack of faith in their guide who also seems to struggle with an unknown guilt, Kichijiro is able to sneak them into Japan in the middle of the night. When they reach shore, they are met by villagers who secretly practice Christianity and are amazed to see real priests. The priests on the other hand, are inspired by the faith of these poor villagers who are willing to risk their lives to practice Christianity. Although no one is able to provide information about Fr. Ferreira, the priests remain in the village to minister to this congregation. At night, the priests celebrate mass, listen to villager confessions and then go into hiding during the day. Eventually, word spreads to the governor of the province that priests are back in Japan and that people are practicing Christianity once again. After soldiers threaten the village, it becomes clear that the priests and their followers may have to endure tremendous hardships and even sacrifice their lives in the defense of their faith.

On top of the fantastic cinematography, the acting in this movie is also exemplary, especially Andrew Garfield, whose character literally transforms over the course of the movie. Although Garfield and Adam Driver’s characters begin the film as co-missionaries, Garfield’s perspective is the main focus of the story. Even though his work in Hacksaw Ridge received considerable praise, Garfield’s work in this film is arguably more impressive as his ability to showcase the emotional toll he is enduring will resonate with audiences. The ensemble of Japanese actors do great work as well, especially Yôsuke Kubozuka as their guide and Tadanobu Asano whose character challenges Fr. Rodriguez’s faith and morality over the course of the film.  Though the movie features great performances and is well shot, it does run too long. There were certainly scenes that could have been shortened. Moviegoers should also consider the subject matter before they head to the theater. They may not be in the mood for such heavy material on a Saturday night. Still, audiences who take a leap of faith and see this movie will be rewarded with an unforgettable experience.

Bottom Line: Martin Scorsese’s historic drama Silence will certainly stick with audiences as this movie grapples with themes of conviction and its price like no other.

Credits: Written by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese; Directed by Martin Scorsese

Cast: Andrew Garfield (Father Sebastian Rodrigues), Adam Driver (Father Francisco Garupe), Liam Neeson (Father Ferreira), Tadanobu Asano (the Interpreter), Ciarán Hinds (Father Valignano), Issei Ogata (Inoue Masashige), Yôsuke Kubozuka (Kichijiro)

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Running Time: 161 minutes

Jessica DeLong © February 4, 2017