Review: Silence / Running time: 161 mins / Rating: R16
I am always wary when a film of notable scope and pedigree such as Silence is largely ignored during awards season. Either I’m reading too much into its lack of critical chatter, or the film is a dud. I was hoping the former. After all, master director Martin Scorsese has had this film in the oven on slow-cook since the nineties, so my hopes were high.
Silence is based on Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 historical novel about the persecution of Christians in 17th-century Japan. Two Portuguese Jesuit priests, Rodrigues and Garupe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), leave for Japan in search of one of their own (Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson) who’s believed to have renounced his faith and “gone native”. In doing so, both have their faith tested as they encounter extreme torment in a land that is “like a swamp” and incapable of adopting the Christian faith. Shūsaku Endō’s story is remarkably similar to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which also received cinematic treatment with Apocalypse Now. But where Apocalypse Now was a personal film for Ford Coppola due to hardships he encountered while filming, Silence is a personal film to Scorsese because the source material clearly resonates with his own faith. However, this might’ve clouded his filmic judgement, because like its protagonists, Silence tests your patience.
I really wanted to like this film, but like an unrequited love, I found myself losing interest and giving up the chase. Large chunks were unengaging, slow, and dare I say it … boring. Putting in extra effort to peel back layers of dubious Portuguese accents and gratuitous melodrama does reward the viewer with glimpses of Scorsese genius; his intentional use of the camera, his interesting treatment of sound — basically, Silence looks and sounds great. But, that’s slim pickings for a film that promised so much more.
I have never felt this way about a Scorsese film before. So, like the Jesuit priests, I started to doubt my faith in the great director. Must I apostatise like the film’s Christian subjects? Maybe I was lacking the piety of a true film critic. Or perhaps this was a test and so I should wait for enlightenment. Like any great cinematic journey, the destination only begins to fully reveal itself long after you’ve left the theatre. So, wait I did … nothing. Waited further … silence. Sorry Martin.
Rating: 2.5 stars
Is there a beating human heart in Silence?
– one Christian’s perspective.
There is quite often a tension between quality and content. A comparison can be made between high-cinema with low values, and low-cinema with high values. On the one hand, we have high-cinema: film that resonates with the viewer through the clever use of its artifice and successfully gets its point across. Such films might be enjoyable, beautiful, or even insightful, but the point they make is not necessarily of any moral worth. On the other hand, there is the film where noble intentions are clouded by poor film making — where a worthy point is trying to be made, but due to false steps in the film-making process it misses the mark. For me, Silence falls into this latter camp.
Ignoring issues of verisimilitude, can the viewer garner anything of value beyond Silence’s shiny veneer and filmic flaws? Well, the answer is emphatically yes. Silence has plenty to say … but is it relevant to the average person on the street? One might regard the context and setting of 17th century Jesuit Portuguese priests in feudal Japan as irrelevant today. I certainly hope that any Christian is not among this group — one might as well dismiss Jesus on the same grounds. As any Christian should know, Jesus is just as relevant today despite his historical context. More specifically, Silence speaks volumes about the nature of spiritual resistance and how a symbolic action, regardless how small, can take on significant spiritual meaning. This is very relevant in a world where committing simple actions that we know to be wrong is arguably easier now than it has ever been. Actions have intent, and intent carries with it a spiritual component — your actions, no matter how small, are important. Thankfully Silence doesn’t leave us hanging on this point and ambiguously concludes on man’s tenacity and God’s grace and mercy, as the final shot of the film suggests.
Do you think I’m way off the mark? See something in the film you want to get off your chest? Just want to chat about film? If so then feel free to leave a comment. All opinions, comments or discussion points are welcome.