Silence (2016)
Silence (2016)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 39 min.

Release Date: December 23rd, 2016 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Martin Scorsese Actors: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hinds, Issei Ogata, Yosuke Kubozuka, Shin’ya Tsukamoto

 


 

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t begins with a cacophonous medley of environmental sounds, such as crickets chirping, before cutting to absolute silence and the title. And then to a shot of severed heads. Perhaps this is Scorsese adding in some of his signature bits of artistic representations and violence. But what follows is an excruciating exercise in repetition, as faith is tested again and again for nearly three hours, with a relentlessness better reserved for succinct motifs, not heavy-handed, protracted lessons on religious dogmata.

“There’s little peace for us now.” The progress of spreading Christianity in Japan has been halted by persecution and destruction. The remaining padres have – along with their followers – been brutally murdered. Some even ask to be tortured to demonstrate their faith in God, but the end result is the same.

When a letter reaches Father Valignano (Ciaran Hinds), purporting that one of the strongest of all priests, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), has apostatized and taken up a Japanese wife, two young padres refuse to accept such an unequivocal falsity. Resolute in clearing his name, they determine to make the hazardous journey to Japan to find out the truth about Ferreira’s whereabouts. Father Garrpe (Adam Driver) and Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) were directly under his tutelage, and so procure a Japanese man, Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), living in Macao, to aid in their smuggling onto the island.

By 1640, Garrpe and Rodrigues are the last two priests to witness the aftermath of the 20 years of Jesuit persecution in Japan. They make their way to the tiny village of Tomogi before moving on to Goto, where remnants of Christian believers still secretly practice their faith. They must hide during the day and hold mass in the dead of night, always in fear of being found out by the Inquisitor (Issei Ogata), an elderly, somewhat comical man charged with seeking out and eradicating the perceived threat of Christianity.

“Silence” does exhibit stellar performances, especially when it comes to exceptional courage through unshakeable beliefs (Driver being far more convincing than Garfield, in appearance and speech). There are also opportunities for contrasts and fluctuations in adherence to such religious principles, particularly with Kichijiro, who comes to represent many of the failed ideologies mistranslated or misunderstood in proliferating a system so fundamentally alien to many of the formerly Buddhist inhabitants. Doubt also creeps in, as Garrpe grows impatient and Rodrigues questions the illusory habits of a deity that unexplainably remains absent in the most anguishing of times. The two priests, along with most of the villagers, are desperate for tangible signs of faith – signs that occasionally become more valuable than faith itself.

In this perpetual search for validation and proof of God’s omniscience, there are numerous sequences of profound conviction, made more striking by the increasing pitifulness of the survivors and the escalation of tortures inflicted on those who refuse to renounce the invading religion. But, correspondingly, in this indulgent, overlong epic of potent morals, where the individualization of religious implications routinely trumps the bigger picture (along the lines of the infuriating yet purposeful justifications seen in “A Man for All Seasons”), there’s fleeting entertainment value to be found. It’s a historical lecture more than a moving examination of theological unity or human weakness, and surely a plodding series of reiterations on shaping spirituality through pain and fear. It’s not quite the “priestsploitation” nonsense that it could have been, but it’s nevertheless redundant, light on engaging drama, heavy on physical and psychological trials, and sparse on monumental ideas. Particularly with its finale, “Silence” attempts to think for the audience, so that they don’t have to strain to uncover subtle genuineness; religious viewers will certainly interpret various sequences to a greater (or different) degree than those without perspectives comparable to the characters onscreen.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10