Silence represents one of Martin Scorsese’s most distinctly personal movies, harking back to the autobiographical turn that was Mean Streets, his latest is an internalised, fascinating endeavour that lingers over the notion of faith, feeling pertinent without contrivance. This is a tale of a man who simply will not abandon his beliefs, refusing to renounce his faith, in spite of adversity, as he battles with his own conscience, as though something of a catalyst to explore the filmmaker’s own questions about religion, and his relationship with God.
Set in the seventeenth century, Jesuit priests Father Sebastiao Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) are given the go ahead by Father Alessandro Valignano (Ciaran Hinds) to set off to Japan, a nation who neglect Christianity, and track down their mentor Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who is said to have given up his faith, and turned to a life outside of the church. Refusing to believe this be the case, the two missionaries make their way to the Far East, risking their lives and relying on the kindness and assistance of covert Christians, at a time where their religion is outlawed, much like their very presence on this land.
Scorsese has proven across decades that he’s a masterful storyteller, and Silence is emblematic of that fact, as a feature that can be appreciated more so with every viewing, such is the way he has crafted this narrative. It’s subtle, seemingly innocuous details that make this such a fine production, the editing, the cinematography, moments and shots you may take for granted, but when analysing this film you notice how remarkable it truly is, as a film that could, and should, be studied by anyone with ambitions to get involved in the industry.
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To match the talent of the man behind the camera we have quite a turn from those in front of it, with Garfield in particular standing out, as the actor truly is establishing himself as a real force, with his two finest performances to date coming in the same month when also considering Hacksaw Ridge. Driver unsurprisingly excels, and Neeson – though unable (and not for the first time) to adjust his accent, remains absorbing. It’s imperative this be the case as he’s the most integral character to this tale, despite garnering little screen time, similarly to the likes of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, in that regard. But the focus will remain on Garfield, and recognition from the Academy this award’s season would come as a little surprise for the British actor.
The actor is blessed with a flawed character too, and you naturally side with the protagonist, irrespective of your own relationship with faith, as an empathy is evoked from the sheer cruelty Rodrigues is subject too, simply for what he believes in. He’s doing no harm and yet finds his resolve tested to the limit, facing disgusting vitriol and psychological abuse. But his own sense of pride, you could argue, is to his detriment, suffocating him to a point where your investment in his cause is questioned, as you simply want him to pretend to abandon his faith just to save his own life – but then that’s the entire point to this film – he won’t, which is exactly what we’re seeking to try and comprehend.
Silence is a gloriously understated, muted production and yet is no less excruciating than the likes of The Revenant. It just proves you don’t need to have Leonardo DiCaprio crawling through the snow with dribble coming out of his mouth to evoke that feeling of suspense and fear; it can be said just as, if not more powerful without physical anguish and words. It can be more profound when internalised – and this film thrives in such a notion. It makes Silence a rather fitting title, for here’s a picture that needs few words to move, compel and shock the tortured viewer.