Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” tells the story of two Christian missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) – at a time when Christianity was outlawed and their presence forbidden.
For the past 26 years, Martin Scorsese has been trying to develop this passion project and bring it to the screens. Based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, “Silence” is about the test of faith and religion, questioning what lengths you would go to maintain your spiritual relationship with a higher power, but Scorsese’s film is 30 minutes too long and over-indulgent.
The film opens in 17th century Japan, in the time of Kakure Kirishtian, where Christianity has been outlawed, Christians can only practice their beliefs in hiding, and Buddhism is the one true religion. We see Jesuit priest Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), captured by the Japanese army, watching in horror Japanese Christian believers being tortured for following the “wrong” faith. Cut to a few years later in Macau, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) have been informed that a letter has been discovered where it states that their mentor Ferreira has committed apostasy; he has renounced Christianity and all its beliefs. Both not believing this and worried about the state of the religion in Japan, travel to the country in secrecy with the help of a drunken Japanese, Kichijiro (Yosuke Kobuzuka), only to find it is much worse than they first imagined.
Scorsese asks his viewers a lot of questions through the trials and tribulations the two Jesuit priests endure, most notably Garfield’s Rodrigues. How far will you go for your religion? Is martyrdom the true way to paradise? Will you let others suffer for your beliefs? Why isn’t God interfering and stopping this suffering? Just because you are men of God, does that mean you have the power of God within you? These questions are visually analysed through brutal, uncomfortable sequences of torture. Christians are burned alive. They are tied to crosses and placed in oceans to be killed by the waves. They are hanged upside down to bleed out slowly. It’s relentless and Scorsese wants to make sure you understand this troubled time of the religion, which is admirable and you can clearly see why he calls this his passion project.
The film however is way overindulgent and too long for its own good. The punishments are a bit too much and by the third scene of torture (and there is a lot), you just go “I get it. They are suffering. You don’t have to keep on showing this again and again”. Not because I as a viewer had reached my limits of seeing people suffer like Rodrigues did from watching this happen in front of his eyes, and I get it’s a trial of how faithful he can still be. But at some point before the 120 minute out of 160 minute mark of the film, I was ready to just switch off. It becomes too preachy, and in one particular scene, Rodrigues looks at a reflection of himself in water and sees not himself, but of Jesus. Really? After seeing all these poor Christians die in front of you and let themselves die in the name of Jesus?
The film is beautifully shot by Rodrigo Prieto, making Japan look so harrowing at this awful time in their history. The acting is great from all involved, especially Garfield, but his Portuguese accent is very much a hit-and-miss in my book. But it’s Kichijiro, played by Kobuzuko, whose character stood out for me. A drunk Japanese with a terrible past who repeatedly comes to Garfield’s character for redemption.
If you’re going in expecting something like “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “Goodfellas”, this is not. This is a tale about the tests of faith and morality. A slow burner of a film which Scorsese has tried to make for so many decades, which at times is riveting. It asks you many ethical questions, but these questions get drowned in its very long running time and one too many torture sequences.