Silence (2016)

casey If I had to sum up Silence in one word, it would be a word that somehow encompasses the following: slow, punishing, frustrating, tedious, unrelenting, reverential, and…good(?)
In the words of Hobie Doyle: it’s…complicated.

brooke You forgot heavy. It’s a heavy film and it had me in a trance.
If I could change one thing, I think there might have been a better lead than Andrew Garfield, but we can get into that later.

casey Silence is a Martin Scorsese passion project, apparently two decades in the making, starring 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priests Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver). As the film opens they learn about rumors that their former mentor Father Ferriera (Liam Neeson) has apostatized and renounced Christianity while on a mission to Japan, during a period of severe persecution under the Shogunate. Refusing to believe it, the young priests set out to find Ferriera and clear his name or rescue his lost soul. With assistance from a recidivist Christian named Kichijiro (Yōsuke Kubozuka), they sail to Japan and meet beleaguered groups of Japanese Christians driven to practice their outlawed faith in secret. Soon the local governor learns about their activities and sends his own inquisitors to stamp it out. Literally so, since one of their tests is to require that suspected Christians step on a religious image and blaspheme their God.

brooke Eventually the priests separate, and Rodrigues is captured by the inquisitors. There is some serious psychological torture on the part of the inquisitorial team led by Inoue Masashige (Issey Ogata). They tell Padre Rodrigues and anyone else they interrogate, again and again, that any pain they undergo is their own fault for refusing to apostatize. The torture that is inflicted on the ones who refuse to blaspheme is heartbreaking.
Apparently, Inoue was a real figure in Japanese history, which kind of makes me hate him more, and the movie is based on a historical fiction novel of the same name that we need to read.

casey The captivity drags on for some time, with long periods of inactivity punctuated by torture, mostly inflicted on other Christians while Rodrigues is forced to watch. Not surprisingly, this causes extreme guilt and ongoing doubt about God’s silence toward his prayers. It can be tedious to watch, and it’s not always helped by the anguished voiceover of Rodrigues’ inner monologue, but in a strange way everything starts to work in the movie’s favor by making it easier to identify with the prisoners, both in their boredom and their agony. And it means the brief moments where Rodrigues seems to experience some kind of visionary breakthrough (whether real or imagined) actually feel like rays of light.
It’s an approach to faith broadly similar to Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, but without the manipulative extreme violence.

brooke It was interesting to see Scorsese use violence sparingly, given that I’m most familiar with his work on more over the top movies like The Departed and Wolf of Wall Street
Anyway, as the story progresses, Padre Rodrigues starts to see himself in a salvific light and even has a vision of himself as Christ (specifically a version of Christ painted by El Greco, which was a nice touch) in a moment that reaffirms the importance of his faith and the challenge of finding Ferreira without apostatizing.

casey I liked that even as Rodrigues starts to look and act more, well, Jesus-y, his doubts increase as well.  It’s a tortured kind of faith, mediated through Gethsemane, that may not appeal to everyone, but Scorsese clearly takes it seriously. I’m not sure Garfield has the chops to pull off what’s asked of him, beginning with his distractingly inconsistent accent, but most of the Japanese actors are excellent, and the sets and scenery are gorgeous.

brooke One advantage to using Andrew Garfield: His hair is absolutely glorious.
So many of the Japanese actors are incredible (I’m looking at you, Shin’ya Tsukamoto). They deliver incredible performances despite mostly only being in the movie for brief periods of time. Kichijiro and Inoue get a lot more screen time, and both are fantastic in very different roles. I like that there’s a sort of childlike quality to Kichijiro in the way he keeps coming to Rodrigues for guidance and spiritual aide.

casey He’s the most unreliable character in the movie, almost a comic relief figure except his actions have extremely grave consequences as he betrays Rodrigues multiple times. But despite his flightiness, in some ways he’s the most dedicated Christian of all because he keeps coming back, even when he doesn’t have to, when he’s no longer wanted. So all this is to say that, whatever its faults, Silence takes religion seriously. Its earnestness might open it to charges of being an apology for colonialism, although I think there’s more to it than that. Regardless, it’s a movie that I’ve thought about a lot since we saw it, and that’s enough to have made it worthwhile.

brooke I can understand the concerns about colonialism, but I think talking about it only in those terms too reductive. Rodrigues and Garupe might see themselves as colonial saviors when they arrive, but the way things shake out… well, I guess it’s up to everyone to decide for themselves, but I think those complaints are missing the bigger themes.

casey It goes back to the question of whether depiction is the same as endorsement, and given that the church’s very presence in the country becomes something that torments Rodrigues (and justly so!), I think there are layers to it. And, from what I understand, the historical persecution of Christianity in feudal Japan was both real and brutal, so it’s a story worth telling, Western biases and all. Anyway, I think in Silence Martin Scorsese has created a mature and thoughtful, if very imperfect, reflection on faith and sacrifice.

brooke Regardless of how you feel about religion, Jesus, or Japan, this is a must see.

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