“I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?”
Just as main character Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) is conflicted about his faith, I’m conflicted about Martin Scorsese’s current project, Silence. This film is clearly a labor of love and something extremely personal, both of which I greatly respect. Its genesis dates back nearly 30 years to the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ—can there be a more fitting starting point?—when Scorsese read Shusaku Endo’s novel (the title is the same as the movie) about Jesuit missionaries and Catholicism in Japan in the 17th Century (http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/11/27/magazine/the-passion-of-martin-scorsese.html?_r=0&referer=https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/12/martin-scorsese-silence-theology-art-jesuits/510827/ ). Having a Jesuit education myself, the nuance of what drives the characters (i.e., the service-oriented “men for others” philosophy of the Society of Jesus and the desire to make the right decisions and find answers) is not lost on me.
Momentary diversion: I was simultaneously amused and wowed by the number of nuns and priests in attendance at the pre-opening screening that I attended. I say “amused” because the audience looked like a Catholic J. Crew catalog; and I say “wowed” because the turnout served as a testament to the weight of this film. I felt it, and it was heavy. Credible. Plus, what does it say that a lapsed Catholic like me shows up for the pre-opening screening of a religious film as if it were a release party for a new Madonna album? More conflict.
But I digress. Silence follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests—the aforementioned Fr. Rodrigues and Fr. Garrpe (Adam Driver)—on their search to find their spiritual teacher and mentor, Fr. Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has gone missing in Japan. The Japanese state has banned Christianity: those who practice it are hunted down by a committee, tortured, and killed. There’s an easy way out, weird as it is, that involves stepping on Catholic icons. Unsettling rumors have come to light concerning Fr. Ferreira, the most troubling of which is that he renounced Catholicism.
Silence is a gorgeous film—Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is breathtaking. I can feel every fly and bead of sweat I see on the screen. The idea of pushing “What Would Jesus Do?” to its mindfucking extreme is absolutely brilliant. The acting is generally flawless, but Issei Ogata easily shines lightyears beyond everyone else as the surprisingly unarresting, pragmatic, and understanding Inquisitor. Scorcese does a beautiful job demonstrating two timely ideas: tolerance is crucial for any civilized society, and doubt is totally normal. Can I get an amen? All that said, however, Silence is gratuitous in length, tedious, and exhausting. Painfully boring at points, even. The narration drove me crazy after awhile, as did the subpar Portugese accents. The ending is emotionally brutal; it’s ultimately satisfying, but you have to look closely and you have to be thinking. Normally, this wouldn’t be something worth mentioning; but at the end of such an energy zapper as Silence, it’s just not what I was prepared to do. I love what Scorcese gets at here; he does it artfully for sure, but I wish he had gone about it in a more direct and interesting way.
Also starring Ciarán Hinds, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, and Yôsuke Kubozuka.
Produced by Sharpsword Films, AI Film, CatchPlay, IM Global, Verdi Productions, YLK Sikella, and Fábrica de Cine
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
(AMC River East) C+