If you were to ask me if I like Silence, then the simple answer would be “yes”. But to give such a simple answer seems like a disservice to what is a complicated film.
As it’s much, much more deeply layered than your average movie, let alone your average Martin Scorsese movie. His films over the years have asked many moral questions of their characters, but none (or at least none since 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ) have delved into their theological ideals as Silence does. It’s far from only a tale of rescue, also a look at faith, what it is to be Christian, and what it is to live in another’s culture. It’s a story where the lines between what is right and what is wrong are sometimes blurred, and sometimes trodden on all together, where your opinions on those rights and wrongs will switch throughout.
We embark on this complex journey through the eyes of a Portuguese priest, Andrew Garfield’s Sebastião Rodrigues, who along with Adam Driver’s Francisco Garupe journeys to Japan to find their missing mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who it is rumoured has renounced his faith under torture from Japanese Buddhists, who are driving Christianity from their land. With relations between the Buddhists and the Christians beyond breaking point, the pair’s travels are full of treachery. They start their expedition with unwavering faith, but it’s a faith that will be tested more than it ever has been before. I’m reluctant to go into any further details on the plot, because a), there’s so much jam-packed into the near three hour runtime that it’s impossible to fit into one succinct paragraph, and b), my take on how both Rodrigues and Garupe deal with the trials they’re put through in the name of their religion may be somewhat different to yours – it’s all open to interpretation. Despite not being a religious person, I still found that the representation of faith was believable, thought provoking, and most importantly, relatable.
Much of a the praise in this respect should go to Andrew Garfield, whose central role is crucial to providing grounding to the film’s weighty talking points (in spite of his wobbly Portuguese accent). Whilst Garfield is excellent, the turmoil that Driver’s Garupe faces, with his beliefs wavering even early in their journey, makes him the more interesting character of the pair. Which is why Driver is missed when he happens to drop off the face of the Earth halfway through the film. Still, there’s enough being asked of Rodrigues, and Garfield handles the internal struggle his character battles with well enough to elevate even the driest of the film’s stretches.
Because there are dry spells littered here and there. Perhaps the title might give it away, but it’s very much a case of Silence by name, silent by nature. It’s quiet, contemplative, and almost entirely score-free, with just the sound of crickets and the occasional tortured scream breaking the stillness. It’s a clever, economical way of representing both God’s absence, and his eternal presence with Rodrigues throughout the world around him.
No, it’s not always the easiest of watches, as beautifully shot as it is. But it’s a rewarding one if you allow it the attention it undoubtedly deserves.
Rating (out of 5):