Three years after The Wolf of Wall Street, the latest film from directing legend Martin Scorsese couldn’t be more different. While that movie positively revelled in the misdemeanours of a central character entirely lacking a single moral fibre in his body, Silence tells the story of individuals who will face any danger in order to live what they see as a holy and righteous existence.
Set in the seventeenth century, and based on the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver) as they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Christianity has been strictly outlawed in the country and Christians, priests and practicing natives alike, are ruthlessly being hunted down and then tortured by the Japanese Inquisition until they agree to commit apostasy (renouncing their religion).
Such is the grave danger and likelihood of capture (the rewards on offer for exposing Christians are immense), the pair are forced to spend the daylight hours in silent hiding - only daring to spend time with the covert Christians who are aiding and abetting them after nightfall. Capture means almost certain death and the tension created by living this existence is palpable.
Unsurprisingly, Scorsese doesn’t hold back from portraying the numerous hideously cruel ways in which the inquisition tortures and murders its victims. Grisly ends include people being burnt alive, drowned at sea and hung upside down in pits.
It’s a tough watch, but the violence on screen does serve a purpose. The central premise of the film asks the question ‘If you have religious faith, what lengths would you go to in order to stay true to it - in the face of unfathomable pain and mental torture, and when the God you believe in and refuse to denounce has seemingly deserted you?'
Rodrigues and Garrpe eventually become separated, at which point Rodrigues’ journey, literally and spiritually, becomes the film’s main focus. It would be easy to over-act such weighty material but, to his great credit, Garfield does it justice and makes you believe in the physical and mental torment Rodrigues is going through.
The real star of Silence, though, is Rodrigo Prieto, its Director of Photography. The Japanese scenery looks stunning and the whole thing is beautifully shot from start to finish. It’s a feast for the eyes, as are the sumptuous period costumes (incidentally the film hasn’t received an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design, which looks like an oversight).
The ‘Scorsese-esque’ running time of just under three hour is a little challenging at times and, as with The Wolf of Wall Street, it could easily lose half an hour. It’s a film that lingers on its portrayal of the suffering endured by Christians who display superhuman strengths of will and conviction in the face of unrelenting pressure.
On that note, I have no idea whether or not Scorsese is a Christian himself but, either way, it’s not surprising to hear the film has been widely praised within the Christian community. However, whether you view Silence from the perspective of committed atheist or ardent believer of any faith, the film’s message should be viewed more broadly.
In an age when the issue of intolerance and persecution towards religions throughout the world is as relevant as it’s ever been, Silence is a powerful reminder of the madness and utter futility of attacking and bullying a group of people just because they believe in something different to you.