Growing up in a Catholic family, there’s a part of Silence that would have spoken towards my own experience. But I’ve grown up later with a lack of sureness in my faith and soon it became clear to me why Martin Scorsese’s most recent effort only were set to have grabbed me as much as it did. After Casino, Scorsese seems to have gone from a consistent track record to a more hit-and-miss run with an occasional gem like Bringing Out the Dead or The Wolf of Wall Street and then come disappointments like Shutter Island or The Departed. I feel happy enough to say that with Silence, Scorsese has indeed made his best film in the 21st century and thus his best film since Casino. Regrettably I was unable to have seen it in theaters and after having finally seen it, the wait was more than worth it. With Silence, what we have on the spot may be the closest thing we’ll ever get to a modern day Ingmar Bergman film in a sense.
Being only the second film to have been based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel after Masahiro Shinoda’s first take, this also marks a return to Martin Scorsese for religion-based films after The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. Set during the time of Kakure Kirishitan, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver star as two Portuguese Jesuit priests who are travelling across Japan in order to locate their missing mentor, who reportedly had renounced the faith while he had also put his own life at risk for trying to spread the Catholic faith all across Japan. While they are still on their journey, their encounters become far more dangerous than they would ever have expected and even put their own moralities at risk, one among a few factors that adds up to making Silence one of Scorsese’s most profound work in the many years that have passed by, for he tells a story that he knows would have touched him so personally through his own faith.
Martin Scorsese, a Catholic, was the perfect choice to tell this story: not only on the ground that he presents Silence as a confessional work but also within how it feels personal across the board on his end. After years of having directed crime dramas within his impeccable career, this of all things is his passion project: a religious epic that covers a dangerous quest that even puts one’s own faith to the test. But it works on another ground that goes beyond Masahiro Shinoda’s film, and it’s absolutely incredible. Among many things that we come to think of as we watch Silence, there’s an experience that he wishes to capture almost like sitting inside of a church where you listen to one’s words as they enter your ears and as they soothe your mind, they leave you to decide what’s set to come forth by your decision. It comes clear from watching the consequences of belief upon Fathers Rodrigues and Garupe, almost reminding me in a sense of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal in how it handles a silencing of belief.
Silence is a beautiful film, but for how much there is to find amidst the beautiful landscapes and Japanese sets, there’s a reason to which they are assembled as such. It is only fitting that the film’s title, “silence,” refers to what it will take for one to keep their own life safe even at the cost of their own beliefs. In a sense you can come back down to the visual beauty of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven and look upon how all the heavenly imagery across the wheat fields presents itself as a visual metaphor representing a state of serenity – akin to the afterlife. But for all it’s worth, Martin Scorsese’s Silence also works just like a visual poem and it works to setting up perfectly everything that the film is representative of: a feeling of alienation within belief. And even with a Catholic story at the very center of this piece, the effectiveness of Silence is a universal truth being expressed all throughout.
While Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver are going to be singled out for praise amongst many circles, their performances are only a small part to the film’s success. The whole Japanese cast is absolutely fantastic ranging from actors like Tadanobu Asano or Shinya Tsukamoto, for their performances all ring not merely as faceless figures but as people who are still seeking forgiveness inside of a world that is full of cruelty. And then comes Liam Neeson, serving his part as a thematic bridge for Silence inside of a rather short presence, the line between where one’s faith only can physically put one amongst danger inside of a society that is so conservative about the way things run around oneself. There’s a certain experience I would only imagine that Scorsese would have wanted to capture from his focusing on figures like such, in a sense that it would work as a test for his audience members to think about the limits to where their beliefs can take them, are they really going to unite humanity or outright detach it instead?
There’s a whole lot more worth covering about Silence but among the many things that a passion project of this range truly is worth, the wait is certainly going to be amongst them. With Silence, Martin Scorsese has not only made what would only be one of the most beautiful films of the decade as of yet but he has also marked a grand return to form for him. The experience that Silence has left behind upon myself is still one that haunts me greatly and one that would also leave me to think about how far would Ingmar Bergman have gone if he were to tell a story based around faith to this degree akin to Winter Light, among many things that I had been left to think about. After years of waiting for a return to a track record of continuously providing one great film after another, I am happy to report that Martin Scorsese has found that touch once again with Silence.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Paramount Pictures.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Screenplay by Martin Scorsese, Jay Cocks, from the novel by Shusaku Endo
Produced by Barbara De Fina, Randall Emmett, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Gaston Pavlovich, Martin Scorsese, Irwin Winkler
Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano, Ciarán Hinds, Liam Neeson, Shinya Tsukamoto
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 161 minutes