Skip to main content

Martin Scorsese Delivers a Challenging Epic


          Silence is a huge departure from Martin Scorsese’s last film, The Wolf of Wall Street. Not only in the setting and characters, but in its thematic depth and gripping emotion. Scorsese’s known for making movies about characters. Silence however is more a film about the power and meaning of faith.
          Set in the mid-17th century, two Portuguese Jesuit priests, Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) receive word that their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a missionary in Japan, has apostatized his faith in the face of torture by the anti-Christian authorities. The two volunteer to go to Japan, continue Ferreira’s mission and if possible, find and retrieve him. 
          The direction here is masterful. Scorsese proves that unlike some of his contemporaries, he hasn't lost his ability to make great artistically satisfying, interesting films. The breathtaking cinematography basks in the environment, the landscapes and civilization of Edo period Japan. Scorsese certainly doesn’t back away from the brutality of the story. While it’s not nearly as violent as the trailer might indicate, it shows in detail how easy it was to make missionaries recant their faith. As a form of mockery, these authorities crucify Christians in the warpath of heavy waves. We also see scalding water used against Ferreira. What makes these and many other scenes so resonating is Scorsese’s unconventional sound design. Or perhaps the absence of it, because there are a number of points in this movie where all but the natural sound effects are muted and the visuals alone relied upon. This technique gives the film a curious absence of score but a much more cognisant tone as you feel the realism of every beat and action. The costuming is superb, the details of the era, the epic nature of the film (it has a runtime of close to three hours). In fact based on these factors, the setting -both place and time, and characterization, it’s clear one of Scorsese’s influences on this film was Akira Kurosawa. In fact there are a couple shots I’m sure are replicated directly from Rashomon
          And just when you thought 2016 already gave us Andrew Garfield’s best yet performance in Hacksaw Ridge, here he delivers an arguably better one as Rodrigues. He flawlessly articulates his desperation to keep his faith in light of all that’s happening. The supporting cast is filled with complex characters too. Adam Driver is believably unsure as Garupe, Yōsuke Kubozuka is an enigma as the apostatized Kichijiro who feels like an allusion to a specific Biblical figure, and Issey Ogata as the governor Inoue Masahige is an unlikeable but challenging antagonist. Liam Neeson though not in the film a lot, also gives a particularly strong performance. Giving additionally decent performances are Yoshi Oida, Tadanobu Asano, and Ciaran Hinds.
          If the plot sounds familiar, you’ve likely read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, or seen its Vietnam movie equivalent Apocalypse Now. But the story isn’t as straightforward as that and in fact the major journey undertaken by the protagonist is not the one of finding his mentor. 
          Rodrigues’ journey is a spiritual one of how far his faith can be tested, and the way the movie handles this is wonderful. It doesn’t pick a side; even though the Christians are the ones being persecuted and martyred, it’s contrasted with scenes of intelligent debate and introspection. In one great scene Rodrigues and Inoue argue Christianity over Buddhism and why each believes the western religion should or shouldn’t be practised in Japan. There’s interesting allegorical discussion and even a point where the peacefulness of Buddhism is contrasted against Christianity’s even-then violent history. The movie also showcases and even subtly criticizes iconography in the Catholic Church through the use of the image of Christ or the Virgin Mary that people have to step on to prove they’re not Christians. The fact that some are willing to die rather than do this makes for an interesting commentary, and especially makes Kichijiro who previously had done this but retained his beliefs, a more fascinating character. Silence asks whether faith is worth death and more importantly what the meaning of faith is, how far one will go or be pushed for it. Rodrigues is forced into doubt throughout this movie; forced to question why Jesuits are risking their lives to spread the church, and most significantly whether what he’s been taught to do is necessarily what’s right. Best of all, it’s a film open to interpretation. For example, the breakdown in this movie of religious credence combined with the aforementioned iconography, you could possibly interpret as an argument for the Protestant Reformation (which was in full vigour by this point).
          This film does have some issues in pacing, as well as a final shot that should probably have been left ambiguous. But the performances are terrific, it’s a gut-punch emotionally, and on a technical level this is one of Scorsese’s best films! Where Silence shines most however is in its deep and challenging themes that the story supports deftly, which leave even non-believers contemplating their powerful worth. 

Popular posts from this blog

Mary Tyler Moore's Best Moments

A couple days ago, we lost the icon Mary Tyler Moore. On the Mount Rushmore of groundbreaking comediennes, Moore has an undeniable place (with Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and Cloris Leachman). She was often the best part of the Dick Van Dyke Show, making for half of one of the greatest TV couples. Through her own series, she was a key part of one of the most important and timeless shows of all time. Her kindness, perseverance, and good humour made her a role model for all, but especially women and girls whose greater representation in media she pioneered. She was such an endearingly sweet woman, a champion of diabetes research and a great philanthropist. When watching either of her classic shows, she always felt like a good friend. And now the world has lost that friend.
          In honour of her passing, I want to highlight just some of my favourite Mary Tyler Moore moments both as Laura Petrie and Mary Richards, that attest to what a great comedic and inspirational talen…

Disney Sundays: Moana (2016)

When I heard that the next Disney movie, Moana was going to be based around Hawaii, I was tempted to say, “haven’t we been here before?’ It doesn’t feel like too long ago that we had Lilo & Stitch. I was more curious though when I heard it would revolve around Hawaiian mythological figures like Maui and fantastical monsters. But then I remembered Ron Clements and John Musker were the directors behind Hercules and I worried. However I needn’t have, as Moana is easily the pair’s best film since Aladdin.
          A teenage girl called Moana, resident of a small isolated tribe on one of the Polynesian islands, is chosen by the ocean to be an emissary to the banished demigod Maui and convince him to return the Heart of the Sea (a small pounamu stone) to Te Fiti -the goddess he stole it from who’s cursed their world with famine as retribution.
          Though this is a standard and fittingly mythic hero's journey, the story is nonetheless an exciting one to follow due in…

Overlooked Specials 12th Day of Christmas

12th Day of Christmas:
Blackadder’s Christmas Carol This Christmas Day how about we dispense with the feels in favour of a mean but comedically genius one-off of Britain’s best series. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Blackadder, the series about a witty schemer reincarnated through various periods in British history, this special should still make you laugh. An inversion of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Blackadder played of course to perfection by Rowan Atkinson is the kindest man in England which everyone uses to take advantage of him. But an encounter with a Spirit of Christmas causes him to change his ways. Most of the Blackadder cast: Atkinson, Tony Robinson as Baldrick, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Miranda Richardson appear here and are excellent, as are guests Miriam Margolyes, Jim Broadbent, and Robbie Coltrane in a role I’m sure inspired J.K. Rowling to request him for Hagrid. And the writing from Richard Curtis and Ben Elton is as sharp as ever. It’s relentlessly enjoyable, funny…