Go ahead now. It’s alright . . . your life is with me now. Step.
For a passion project by Martin Scorsese that’s been in the works for decades now, Silence seemed to get lost in the flood of prestige pictures at the end of the year and this is really a shame, because Silence is a finely-crafted piece of cinema, a film dedicated to unfolding at its own pace, unhurried but with not a single shot wasted. It’s the best thing Scorsese’s done in decades, perhaps since the 1980s. The story is deceptively simple; two Jesuits journey to Japan during a period of intense persecution of Christians, seeking to discover if a fellow priest has apostatized and denied Christ. But what follows is a masterpiece of ambiguity. The simple story is a frame on which to hang fundamental and foundational questions of faith in God, the nature of man and the uncomfortable meeting of the two. This isn’t a story about characters that journey through failure, faith, doubt & redemption; this is a film about the struggle to even understand what those things mean, how they look in the world and how they feel in the soul.
The film has a load of astounding performances. Andrew Garfield, a promising young actor, delivers his rawest and most intense performance to date. Liam Neeson gives the best performance he’s given in years. Tadanobu Asano is a revelation in a part that might have been uninteresting; he’s part harried bureaucrat in charge of the apostasy program, part anthropologist of the Christian faith, part translator caught between, not two languages, but two entirely different views of existence. Issei Ogata is a wonder to behold as the wily inquisitor. Yosuke Kobozuka is wonderful in a small part as a character many have disliked, but he’s as central to the questions of this film as anyone in the film.
I’m not going to spoil any details of the film; it’s an emotional journey that needs to be lived by the audience as Scorsese intended. Suffice it to say that the film is often harrowing and often beautiful and often unsettling. It’s unsettling in both the thoughts and the feelings it wrestles with. Scorsese refuses to give the audience a single easy answer and the opinions of the characters and their actions as well are often challenging to grapple with. Silence isn’t a film that wants to tell you what to think about faith, doubt, sacrifice, culture; it’s a film that wants you to wrestle with it as Jacob wrestled with the angel in Genesis. It’s a film that left me profoundly troubled in many ways and a film that I’ve seen many attempt to twist to fit one worldview or another, but Silence isn’t a movie that means only one thing or even a few things; it contains multitudes and it’s sure to stop you in its tracks with the questions it asks. There’s a scene near the end of the film that is one of the finest moments in Scorsese’s filmography. The film’s ultimate question perhaps goes back to those eternal questions and feelings and yearnings of the human soul. In the deafeningly quiet moments of doubt, suffering and sorrow, who, Scorsese asks, will finally break the silence? 4 stars.
tl;dr – Silence is a crowning masterpiece from Scorsese and a triumph of great acting, an immaculately produced, deeply felt, thought-provoking exploration of faith & doubt. 4 stars.