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.




Photo by David Bornfriend

Review: Moonlight / Running time: 111 mins / Rating: M

“Who is you, man?” — a question posed to the protagonist of Barry Jenkins’ latest feature film, Moonlight.  Issues of “identity” are often explored in film, but few offer such a fresh and unique take on the topic as Moonlight.  Jenkins both directed and adapted the screenplay from Tarell McCraney’s original story “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”.  It’s a shame they changed the title because it succinctly sums up the central metaphor to this film — that is, how you are perceived through the critical lens of others. More-so, how others will always try to define you.

The film is presented in three acts spanning the formative years of Chiron, an African-American, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. Growing up in a rough neighbourhood, his journey of self-discovery deals with universal themes of identity, sexuality, family, and most of all, masculinity. He discovers from an early age that certain feelings have no place in the hostile environment he lives in, and finds himself constantly on the outer. Chiron struggles to come to terms with his sexuality and his place in the world, all the while managing his drug addled mother (played by Naomie Harris).

Although such environments and topics often lend themselves to gritty social realism, Jenkins has instead opted to tell Chiron’s story with a vivid impressionistic style. The result is more akin to Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild and presents a very visual film that is striking but also utilises quiet moments and an economy of dialogue. Cinematographer James Laxton has done a wonderful job of getting his camera to tell Chiron’s story.  Skin tones are exquisitely lit and the beats of camera movement match the incredible musical score by Nicholas Britell (Whiplash, 12 Years a Slave).  The result is a sensory experience that had me spellbound.

Magical qualities are consistently present in all three performances of Chiron’s character, despite being played by three actors of different age and body shape. Director Jenkins explains that during the process of auditions he focussed on expression through the eyes; “find the eyes and you’ll see the soul, and if the soul is the same, then the audience will follow the character”. In actors Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes he found the same soul through three sets of eyes.  And indeed, I did follow their journey as one.

Moonlight is one of those rare movies that just doesn’t take a wrong step. It is an astounding piece of cinema that compassionately taps into a facet of American life that is not often explored.

5 stars out of 5

Is there a beating human heart in Moonlight

                                                                                      – one Christian’s perspective.

I read a comment on Facebook the other day.  It was a response to seeing Moonlight. It said; “Another 5 star movie for me this year, but perhaps not for everyone.”   The movie goer is a Christian and acknowledged that it was a good film. However, I’m unsure if the comment  “but perhaps not for everyone” was a warning to the conservative Christian fraternity to stay clear, or simply that the film, aesthetically, is an acquired taste. Either way, it raises some interesting points about how trawling the hard yards through topics that you are averse to is a learning process and can offer interesting and often heartfelt insights about people.  It’s an arduous lesson and I like to think of it as a form of tough love on the movie goer, a lesson, and a process that we as Christians should make dutifully in order to understand and love people. Indeed, not everyone will enjoy Moonlight, but I think everyone should see it. Certainly, I believe Christians (of which I am one) might learn a lot from the film’s compassionate account of humanity.  It is a film that for the most part doesn’t take sides on the topic of Homosexuality — it doesn’t appear to force any opinion on the subject, but simply gives an honest and authentic account of one man’s struggle with it.

Love thy neighbour.  Be more selfless. Empathise with people. Understand peoples desires and pain. Moonlight offers an opportunity to practice this.

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.