In 17th century Japan, Christianity was banned.  This made missionary work there extremely dangerous.  When Jesuit priest Father Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson goes missing with rumors of him renouncing his faith, two of his former pupils Father Rodrigues, played by Andrew Garfield and Father Garrpe, played by Adam Driver, insist on going to Japan to find their old mentor.  They consider the rumors of Ferreira’s apostasy to be slander and they desire to clear his name.

What follows is a meditation on the conflict between faith and pragmatism.  When the missionaries arrive in Japan, they are immediately aware that they are putting the coastal village that welcomes them in danger, especially the two leaders Mokichi, played by Shin’ya Tsukamoto and Ichizo, played by Yoshi Oida.  There is a grand inquisitor, played by Issei Ogata, roaming the countryside, trying to eradicate Christianity.  His methods are brutal.

The inquisitor has learned that it is more effective to not kill the missionaries but to kill their parishioners unless the priests renounce their faith publically.  This puts the priests in an untenable position.  They can save lives but at the cost of their souls and the goals of the Church which they have pledged their lives to.  And when Father Rodrigues prays to God for guidance…well that’s where they get the title of the movie.  The dilemma has confused his faith and rendered it mute.

This is a beautifully photographed film with muted colors and interesting camera angles.  The picturesque panoramas of the rocky Japanese coast are stunning.  There are mysterious shots of people walking out of fog and mist, and extreme close-ups of grimy hands holding crosses carved of wood or woven from reeds, small because of the necessity for hiding them.  Martin Scorsese, the director and Rodrigo Prieto the director of photography capture the feeling of coming to a dangerous and alien land through their images.

I will describe the pace of the film as meditative.  There were times when I wished they’d just get on with it but I knew going in that this was a two hour and forty one minute bladder buster.  In the hands of a lessor director this could have been one theological conversation after another but Scorsese keeps that palaver to a minimum.  And it does build in intensity.  What’s more the script by Scorsese and Jay Cocks, based on the novel by Shusaku Endo withholds any kind of judgement.  It shows the benefits and costs on both sides of the dilemma.  In another movie that might be seen as wishy-washy but here the filmmakers make it into a strength, showing the moral complications inherent in Rodrigues’s choice.

The performances were good although I will say that Andrew Garfield needs to be careful.  He has a set of facial expressions and gestures that he relies on too much.  It’s bad when you’re watching a 17th century priest and being reminded every so often that this guy played Spider-man.  Garfield needs to broaden his repertoire.

And you’ve got to admire Liam Neeson.  His whole career he’s gone from cheesy action flicks to prestige dramas with seeming ease.  He approaches every role with the same seriousness and respect.  Not every actor can do that.

The Japanese performers mostly give performances that are reminiscent of Kurosawa films.  Yosuke Kubozuka who play Kichijiro, the guide who brings the priests into Japan and connects them with the Christians in the village, in particular seems to be channeling Toshiro Mifune in Rashoman.  It’s an interesting contrast that jars at first but later on you see that it works.

Most of the time films about ideas are somewhat bloodless, appealing solely to the mind.  Silence appeals to both the mind and the heart and really shows how faith can be an emotional bulwark.  But of course when it is challenged and weakened and eventually defeated that can be devastating.


2 Responses to “Silence”

  1. 1 Mark O'DONNELL January 23, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Where did you see this, Chuck?

  2. 2 theotherebert January 23, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    It’s at Wynnsong and Southpoint.

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