SILENCE

What’s this? A 17th century period piece telling the story about two Jesuit priests going to Japan to spread Christianity? Doesn’t sound like your typical Martin Scorsese vehicle, but here we are. 26 years in the making, Martin Scorsese has taken a break from the guns, drugs, and crazy Leo’s, and given us his long awaited passion project. Taking place in 1640 when Christianity was outlawed and followers were horribly persecuted in Japan, Silence concerns the disappearance of Father Cristóvão Ferreira, a Catholic Jesuit missionary who has disappeared in Japan after being tortured and forced to apostatize. A letter from Ferreira detailing this is received years later, and two of his pupils (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) are sent to Japan to rescue him. As the two missionaries make their way through Japan and spread the faith, they are soon also forced to apostatize, or continue to watch their religious brethren suffer.

This film is the epitome of a passion project. Every single aspect of the film is treated with so much care and performed with the utmost expertise. Scorsese has nothing else to prove here, already showing us that he’s one of history’s best filmmakers throughout his eclectic body of work. The film is absolutely gorgeous, filled with vast shots of the foggy Japanese landscape, but still filled with color, as you can make out the various environments that lie beyond. I was immersed by the impeccable production and costume design, making me feel like I was experiencing this harrowing journey alongside our characters. Everything about the film, aside from the occasional shoddy CG effect, felt effortlessly authentic. The near complete lack of music further emphasized this authenticity, making you really focus on the horror that our characters are suffering through.

While our two main characters, both terrifically played by Adam Garfield and Adam Driver, are there on the same mission, they ultimately walk different paths. Both men want to spread the gospel to the downtrodden Japanese, but have different ideas of how to do so. The film plays around with people’s different ideas of how religions should be recognized and spread, which is even relevant in today’s age. Yes, somebody may wear a crucifix around their neck and show if off to everybody, claiming to be a Christian, but is that good enough? Shouldn’t there be more? Not only are there modern allegories made with how other cultures will persecute other religions, but allegories about how people will idly stand by and let people suffer, all due to their convictions. Neither side is portrayed as right in what they’re doing, which makes the story feel that much more human. Everybody is looking out for their own self interests.

The performances make these themes feel even more palpable, as every character is fully realized, brought to life by our two fantastic lead actors. Andrew Garfield commands the screen, spending much of the second half by himself, where his intense facial expressions and sorrowful voiceovers really make you feel his character’s conflict, even if you may not agree with it. With this and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, Garfield has shown us all he’s more than capable with handling such a meaty performance. Adam Driver plays his character a bit more subdued, where he’s constantly questioning Garfield’s decisions and motives, seeing the increasing distrust behind his cold gaze. While their accents were a bit distracting, the actual performances more than made up for it. Liam Neeson is quite impactful in his minimal screen time, and by the time you finally see him, his calm demeanor perfectly demonstrates the personal turmoil he’s come to accept. The characters and themes are wonderful, but far too much of it is conveyed with unnecessary narration, making the themes feel very heavy handed, sometimes even defeating the point the film is trying to make.

As breathtaking and engrossing the film was, I couldn’t help but feel that the film was terribly paced. I don’t like when people use the excuse of, “It’s boring,” when they don’t like a film, and I hate to use the word here, but it all felt so tiresome. I was completely engrossed by the characters, story, and the amazing filmmaking, but the storytelling of the film was simply way too slow and repetitive. As the film goes on, the structuring and plot beats start to feel incredibly repetitious. Watching Garfield refuse to denounce his faith, while hapless Christians are suffering and dying for it, was awfully irritating after a while. I understand that was the point of the film, but when the film is so long and it’s all due to this character’s indecision, I felt my patience was being tested. I’ve seen the defense that the film needs to this long to real drive home the suffering our characters went through, but a filmmaker as talented as Scorsese should be able to convey that more succinctly.

It can be frustrating when I really enjoy nearly all aspects of a film, but find it incredibly difficult to get through. Silence is nothing short of impeccably crafted. It tells a beautiful story about the conflicts religious people face during horrible circumstances, while you experience the brutal torture that Christians endured at the time. As plodding as this was, I’m grateful that one of the greats like Scorsese was able to finally bring his passion project to life, and I’m also grateful to have experienced it. Tough to watch, but powerful filmmaking from a legend. A difficult offer to turn down.

7.5/10

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