Undeniably, Silence is Martin Scorsese’s most personal and ambitious work to date. Adapting Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel of the same title about the voyage of two Jesuit priests in 17th century Japan, in a misty era called ‘Kakure Kirishitan’ or ‘hidden Christian.’ It is a story about faith and questions that surround men of faith in a desperate time. Inarguably, it is poignant, visceral and thought-provoking at the same time – just like faith itself.
Silence follows Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver), who voluntarily voyage from Portugal to Japan in order to locate the whereabouts of their missing mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Arriving in Japan, the priests immediately get plunged into the miserable life of Japanese Christians, who live and pray in silence and secrecy, for fear of being prosecuted and tortured by Shogunate Inquisitor, Inoue (Issei Ogata). Under such circumstances, the priests barely carry their initial mission out as they’re engulfed in rehabilitating the people’s deteriorating faith and survive the catastrophe themselves.
Faith is the core, but it is cruelty that becomes the instrument and catalysts of contemplation. If captured as Christians, those poor people are demanded to apostatize – by stomping on fumie, a medal with Christ’s images on it; spitting on the crucifix, or humiliating Virgin Mary. Refusing to do so will result in harrowing ends; the Shogunate men are keen to punish those Christians in long agony – including crucifixion by the ocean or hanging them upside down or other tortures. Scorsese pictures those cruelties as visceral as they can be; but, he knows how to hinder it from being too exploitative. Those scenes are haunting, indeed; but, telling an important story at the same time; telling an important question actually, whether faith is worth a life and whether faith is an inbound or outbound substance.
At one point in Silence, Father Rodrigues parts ways with Garupe as they decide to save and serve more people. That separation marks a shift of contemplation; prior to that, Silence ponders around living as Christian in a church as a commune; in aftermath of it, the focus goes more personal, diving into Rodrigues’ deepest frame of thought. As the inquisitor attempts to slowly and painfully estrange Rodrigues from his faith; he descends into a suffocating dilemma; he even quotes what Jesus said during the His passion, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” meaning “My God, My God, why have Thy forsaken me?”
In delivering that role, Andrew Garfield has outdone his own prowess in Hacksaw Ridge, which granted him an Oscar nomination. As poetic as the dialogues, the whole act by Garfield beautifully captures the irony and unapologetically emanates the suffering of faith.
By the third act of this almost 2 and a half hour epic, we witness the biggest religious irony – which might be super relevant to nowadays situation – delivered in dialogues and discussions. There is one scene when both Rodrigues and Inquisitor Inoue agree that the core of each religion is to save people – compassion; but, ironically, that goal cannot walk hand-in-hand, which pretty much sums up the discussion about religion.
Scorsese keeps the question in the air: why does God remain silent upon the calamity that has bestowed upon the people? In doing so, Scorsese might sometimes outdo the convention of storytelling, but he takes a poignant stance on this ambitious work (mind that the director used to dream to be a priest). Silence is sometimes painful, tiring, and harrowing to watch; but so is faith. Yet, Martin Scorsese has transcends Shusaku Endo’s work into a real pilgrimage of faith: a timely best picture.