‘Silence’ review — A test of faith

To say Scorsese’s latest film ‘Silence’ is an uplifting film would be a blatant lie, this three-decade long passion project is littered with uncomfortable imagery and is the definition of a slow-burn. I can see why the film might not be everyone’s cup of tea, however, I found it’s depiction of religion and the struggles of keeping your faith enthralling, making for a fantastic picture.

Silence follows two jesuit priests as they travel to Japan, a country where christianity is forbidden and punishable by death, to recover their mentor (Liam Neeson), who is believed to have denounced god and taken on a new life under a new name. Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) refuse to believe this, leading to their decision to rescue Ferreira and continue to propagate the word of Christ to the Japanese people.

What follows is a tough and relentless journey that pushes the priests to their absolute limits. They are witness to countless acts of violence inflicted on those who would not denounce their faith, leading them to question everything they have been taught. As the viewer, we share feelings of horror and shock with Rodrigues and Garape as we see people burned alive, drowned, hung upside down in a pit to bleed out slowly, even tied to the cross they’ve become so dependant upon as the vicious waves of the ocean bear down on them for days.

The Japanese believers often mention ‘Paradise’, they turn to christianity as they believe it will grant them a life after death with no sufferring. Others such as the Inquisitor, a tough and calculated man who aims to rid Japan of christianity entirely, see the religion as a weed infecting their country. The quote “Japan is a swamp, nothing grows here” states this perfectly. In a conversation between Rodrigues and the Inquisitor he tells the priest a story about four concubines who fought amongst themselves, their master threw them all out leading to the return of peace to his home. This is likened to christianity; Spain, Portugal, Holland, and England all try to spread their beliefs across foreign soil but cause much disharmony. The inquisitor sees it as his responsibility to remove the roots (christianity) from the land.

A great representation of the conflict between religions is the character Kichijiro, throughout the film we see him step on the face of christ (semi-literally), yet he continues to ask for forgiveness from Rodrigues and keeps his faith. Perhaps Kichijiro is truly a christian deep down (as suggested by a scene later on in the film) but his actions suggest that he is cowardly and only remains faithful in the hopes that his illusions of ‘paradise’ will beckon him forward when the time is right. He won’t die for his god but will happily lie to save his life for a little while longer.

Silence is an enthralling film, often times I would find myself resting on my elbow, leaning in as if I was listening to a friend tell me a story. It’s a credit to the screenplay for not trying to force the film’s religious undertones down your throat. Every conversation is filled with interesting points and counterpoints, and you’re always actually invested in what these people have to say. There is no real villain here, even the murderers have a compelling point, regardless of how monstrous their actions may seem.

The cinematography is also stellar, finding plenty of clever and beautiful ways to showcase the Japanese vistas. It’s a shame that the Academy didn’t recognise Silence for other categories, but you can see why it got a shout out here.

Garfield is incredible as Rodrigues and gives what is perhaps the best performance of his career. In Hacksaw Ridge he was playing a man who fully took on his faith and was a shining light amongst the horrors of war, here, he has a much tougher job in showing a man starting to question his beliefs. It’s fitting that he manages to do so much without dialogue, as the use of silence (hah) is effective throughout this film in getting various points across. Driver and Neeson are also good although they’re not given as much to do here. It really is the Andrew Garfield show.

The only negatives that come to mind when thinking back on Silence are that it does drag a bit towards the end and there are a couple of moments where the religious aspect of the film is a bit in-your-face.

Overall, Silence is a magnificent notch in Scorsese’s belt and tells an emotional and engaging story which will be hard to forget for some time. It’s not for everyone, but I implore you to give this one a chance when it’s playing near you.