By Chris Sanchez
Religious faith has always been a controversial topic, and in the new film “Silence,” it’s not exactly welcomed with open arms.
Martin Scorsese’s latest film takes us back to 16th century Japan under Tokugawa Shogunate rule. In this era, Christianity is outlawed and Jesuit priests Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe’s (Adam Driver) faith is put to the test. The priests’ lives are in danger as they travel to Japan to spread Catholicism and find their mentor (Liam Neeson), who has mysteriously disappeared.
When the priests arrive in Japan, they witness the deterioration of their Catholic faith, as the church’s remaining followers in the country have been tortured and persecuted by its inquisitor (Issei Ogata). On the surface, the inquistor seems like a bombastic, villainous caricature, but he is more complex. His goal is not simply to execute these Christians, but force them to renounce their faith. In its own way, this is more agonizing and makes keeping their faith more vital than ever.
Scorsese comes from a very religious background, and at one point in his life he wanted to become a priest. Avid fans of Scorsese shouldn’t be surprised by the director’s exploration into the complexities of faith. His first probe into religion was the controversial 1988 film “Last Temptation of Christ,” which explores the mystery of Jesus Christ. His second venture into religion was his 1997 biographical film “Kundun,” which chronicled Tibet’s Dalai Lama. With “Silence,” he instills his most personal perspectives of religion and concludes the religious trilogy he’s been set out to make since “Last Temptation of Christ.”
“Silence” has been a passion project of Scorsese for 28 years. It is clear that Scorsese deliberately took his time, including paying attention to the pacing in the film. It slowly reveals the deterioration of wise, insightful men who have nothing but love and inspiration to spread, and how they are beaten physically and trampled spiritually.
The breathtaking cinematography showcases the majestic landscapes of Japan and the darkness it brings citizens. The superb performances from both Driver and Garfield drive the film.
The film doesn’t give any easy answers on how to approach religion. Even athiests and agonistics can get something out of “Silence” because it doesn’t pander to men of the cloth, but rather asks if faith is something that could help others get through strenuous times.
Because everything that Scorsese does in “Silence” is deliberate and often very haunting, it becomes a challenging voyage that will not appeal to all tastes. Still, if you are willing to let it challenge your views of religion in a more thoughtful and ambiguous way, it’s a deeply rewarding journey.