Silence (2016)

Silence (2016) movie poster

director Martin Scorsese
viewed: 01/16/2017 at Embarcadero Center Cinema, SF, CA

Silence is a film that Martin Scorsese tried to get made for some 25 years or so. It’s adapted from a novel by Shūsaku Endō, published in the 1960’s, about Japan’s Kakure Kirishitan (“Hidden Christians”), a period in the Edo era when Christianity was harshly and brutally abolished. The Japanese pushed out all outsiders and cut trade with everyone but the Dutch.

The priests initially were tortured to death, but eventually the authorities moved from martyring priests to torturing to Christians themselves, making the priests complicit and forcing them to endure seeing brutality laid out on others, urging them to apostatize.

And that is the setting of our story, with Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield as two Portuguese priests seeking out an old teacher (Liam Neeson) who has reportedly apostatized. They sneak into the country and quickly learn the danger and reality of the situation.

For Scorsese, it’s very much about “faith” and the questions and passions and meaning of it all through the eyes of Garfield’s Rodrigues. Amazed at the devotion of the Japanese Christians, he is horrified at the terrors unleashed upon them, that they suffer and die for no good reason. His faith is tested to the very core, forcing him to decide if renouncing and apostatizing publicly is worse than selfishly holding out while others are maimed and murdered before his eyes.

Beautifully shot by Rodrigo Prieto, Silence is a powerful and interesting film. Even though the film was shot in Taipei and Taiwan, it seems very aware of classic Japanese cinema, though not really in homage, per se. The cast is very good; Andrew Garfield impressed me, and I really liked Issey Ogata as Inoue Masashige, the harsh inquisitor with bevy of quirks.

Scorsese’s take seems ultimately in honor of the devout of the story, the Jesuit Catholics, the passionate, humble Kakure Krishitans, and the closing image certainly spells out where the heart is.

That said, there is much to contemplate throughout, from the basis in historical truths to the nature of secular humanity, imperialist religion versus protecting indigenous culture and religion. And perhaps most timely, the vicious crackdown on a religious group.

With Silence and, though in contrast in style and subject matter, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Scorsese has made two of his strongest films in decades, still going strong in his 70’s.

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