Silence, directed by Martin Scorsese, is a film that is unwavering in its effort to explore its primary topic: Religion. Each frame of this film is more beautiful than the last; each performance meets the exact level and presence that is fitting for the moment, and every ounce of the films runtime is dedicated to making sure it fully explores the downfall of its main character and his utter devotion to his faith. Scorsese is no slouch when it comes to the detail in his films, and Silence shows that, but with such detail, also comes the feeling of being given too much. This is a film that dives as deep as it can possibly go into its subject, but it sometimes forgets the need to come back up for air. But let’s get to the fuller review and see if that issue affects the overall experience, let’s see what Silence has to offer.
The story follows two priests: Rodrigues – played by Andrew Garfield – and Garrpe – played by Adam Driver – who request to go to Japan and seek out, Ferreira – played by Liam Neeson – who is the man who brought them in and taught them the way of the Church. Ferreira is rumoured to have renounced his faith and taken up a Japanese name, which is perhaps understandable, as Christianity is outlawed in the country and any found believing in it risk being killed. This is what Rodrigues and Garrpe are walking into, and their faith and their resolve will truly be tested as they seek to once again spread the word of God, while also searching for their mentor.
Too often, I feel I see films that just outright waste the time that they have. Time that could be utilised for better understanding its main characters, or put towards further expanding on its story – a story that is sometimes ripe with so many possibilities. Now these could be films that are 90 minutes in length, 2 hours in length, or even 3 hours – time is just annoyingly put towards things that detract from the important focus that the film first sets up. With Silence, that is absolutely not the case. Each and every second of this film is put towards fully exploring its primary focus.
The unexpectedly strange thing was that with how long the film spent doing that (Silence clocks in at 2 hours and 41 minutes) I never once got bored or encumbered by the constant drive to go deeper. Silence is intent on exploring one man’s religious resolve in a country that is so desperate to strip him of it. Brother Rodrigues is tested in some of the cruellest of ways, and we are there for every moment of it. We watch him from when he first steps onto the shores of Japan, all the way up until his journey comes to an end. And to be a part of such a long experience is certainly impactful.
Which means that the films lead has a lot of work to do; keeping us engaged with a character, making sure he can bring himself into the states of mind that we then believe in his struggle etc. Andrew Garfield had a monumental task with this film, and I personally think that he absolutely nailed it. He really does become the character of Rodrigues, and he really does commit to putting himself through some horrible things. The only complaint I could offer up is that his Portuguese accent is… not always there – more than once would it slip away. But other than a slightly wonky accent, Garfield is able to bring us along with him on something that is almost hypnotic. I’m comfortable in saying that it may be his best on-screen work yet.
And that great on-screen work delivers a character who is damaged and desperate. It was really interesting to watch this faith-filled man begin to waver; a man of faith who would forget to say grace, as desperation and hunger had taken over; a man of faith, who in front of people who regarded him a saviour, would breakdown and lose his composure due to the impending threat that stood above them all. Brother Rodrigues really is a man who is tested, and for each and every second of it, we are there, watching the struggle unfold. It is both a fascinating character, and a brilliant performance.
But while the film is showing us the slow, cruel deconstruction of a man and his faith; it is also exploring faith as its own character. Silence really does take the time to approach the many sides to religion, belief, faith etc. and not all of it is positive. In fact quite interestingly, the film takes on both sides when talking about Christianity. We are given the opportunity to understand why Japan and its people are so against Christianity and its teachings, while also being given the counter arguments. It is in these moments that the film really shined for me. Beyond all the stunning cinematography (which I’ll get to in a moment) and beyond the more harrowing of scenes, Silence is willing to have theological debates between two diametrically opposed people – people who will not simply submit to the others beliefs.
Through the entire experience, I was transfixed by the film – which I did not expect. I was apprehensive about going into a film that was the length of this one, as I haven’t had the best experiences as of recent with films that were close to 3 hours long. Most of them have felt bloated and lacking in the focus that they should be able to so easily have. But Silence completely had me; I was utterly bewitched by the film, and simply couldn’t stop watching as it built up so many intriguing things, only to then tear them down, in an almost cannibalistic way.
Its devotion to tearing ideals open and fully examining them or its want to test the limits of its main character, by having him witness and experience the horrors of a nation that is completely unwilling to allow Christianity in. Both of these and more had me always engaged; never wavering, never checking the time or wishing the film would hurry and wrap-up. I only wish the film had finished at the right moment. The ending went a little too far for me, and I think pulled certain things further beyond the line, than they needed to go. But still, I was transfixed by the film.
And it’s also hard to not be transfixed when the film looks as good as it does. Each frame of Silence is more stunning than the last. Muted colours, foggy, fear filled towns, tiered faces and outfits that are lavish in there design. There is so much to take in visually, and the film is just an absolute treat to look at. It’s also a film that lives up to its name, as very little music or sound ever impedes on a scene. Only when it is absolutely necessary, does sound play a part; which only helps to add to its importance when it occurs.
Silence is an experience; one that some people will definitely struggle with. You have to make a real commitment to the film. Not only due to how much time you will spend with it but also from the level of attention you must pay to it. This is no easy film to enter in to, but for me, it’s one I’m glad I did.
I am certainly going to recommend Silence. Scorsese is one of those directors who forever challenges himself and also the audience, and what he achieves with this film makes it something worth seeing.
I’d love to know what you thought/think of Silence? Do you think it’s an Oscar contender? Let me know in the comments down below. If you’re interested, you could give my blog a follow, or you could follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. That way you can stay up-to-date on when I post something new. Thank you for taking the time to read my review, and I hope you check out some of my other ones.