by Lachlan Anderson
Rated MA15+. Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson. Directed by Martin Scorsese.
In 1990 filmmaker Martin Scorsese began to adapt Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel Silence. Now, almost 30 years later, the film that has been a passion product for the veteran director has come to our screens. This year’s Silence ponders the divine and gets very theological about the nature of faith under intense persecution.
In 17th Century Japan, Christianity is outlawed and heavily persecuted. Portuguese Jesuit missionary Father Cristovao Ferreira (Neeson) is tortured to the point that he reportedly renounces his faith. His two young pupils, Fathers Rodrigues (Garfield) and Garupe (Driver) smuggle their way into Japan to find him and ensure that he remains in the faith. While in Japan, they encourage the small groups of Christians who live in fear of execution, at the same time evading capture from “the inquisitor” and his anti-Christian regime.
Unlike Scorsese classics like Goodfellas or The Departed, Silence is very much a slow burn. While there isn’t really silence throughout, there is a lot of stillness, reminiscent of other Japanese filmmakers like Yasujiro Ozu, and that makes for great moments of introspection as well as tension. Tension that grows steadily as Rodrigues comes under threat from the authorities and is slowly beaten down emotionally to the point of apostatising.
Despite strong performances from both Driver and Neeson, this is definitely Garfield’s film. His accent can at times be a little iffy but he makes up for it with a sympathetic portrayal of a man’s inner crisis of faith. It is also his second recent role to bring to life men spurred on by the grace of God, the other being Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge.
Scorsese, who had plans to join the priesthood before filmmaking, offers audiences a film about faith that isn’t afraid to get theological. Whether it’s Garfield and Driver explaining the nature of heaven or lengthy debates on the purpose of evangelistic mission and the place of the gospel around the world there is plenty of solid bible content to the film. In fact, this may be the best portrayal of the gospel in a film in years.
Zooming to the present, most of us will receive opposition to our faith now, though likely nothing as bad as depicted in the film. Sadly though, persecution is still the reality for millions of believers around the world. What Silence offers us is a hope and a reminder, that in the face of extreme persecution we need to stay true to our beliefs as the ultimate prize far outweighs our comfort now.
The Verdict: It might not be what you immediately think of when the name Scorsese comes to mind, but Silence is a carefully made reflection on the soul that calls back to classics of Japanese cinema. Powerfully acted and beautifully shot (the cinematography is Oscar nominated), this is the best mainstream film about Christianity in a long time. 4/5
Silence releases in Australian cinemas this Thursday, 16th February. It is already screening in the USA.