Based on Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, Martin Scorsese’s latest film of the same name tells the fictional story of two young padres, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), who travel to Japan in search of their former mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson).
Rumour has it Ferreira apostatized and is now living “as a Japanese” but Rodrigues and a distractingly gaunt Garupe need to find out the truth. They have no real idea about the degree to which Christians are persecuted or the anguish they are destined to face, but their resoluteness and naivety are crucial to the story and its themes.
Upon arrival in Japan, the padres are taken in by Japanese Christians who worship in secret and live in constant fear of the Inquisitor, Inoue (Issey Ogata) and his horrific methods of torture.
The film is at its most compelling when exploring Christianity and Christian martyrdom. Colonialism and its relationship with supposed virtue is called into question in complex and challenging ways that most films and filmmakers steer clear of. The Inquisitor is no one-note villain, and he is given ample time to explain why foreign interference is problematic and why Christianity cannot “take root” in Japan. He also visibly deflates when receiving bad news – what a character.
In the central performance, Garfield veers between feeling miscast to just a bit underwhelming despite his best efforts. Overall, this was his second best turn in a film featuring a misery-laden trip to Japan this year.
Silence is a peculiar work for a few reasons but most notably in the context of Scorsese’s recent projects and because there just aren’t many films about religion (at least this explicitly) which is odd considering religion’s place in society. There’s a certain stateliness or detachment from the story that is hard to overcome, especially over some stretches of the film, but overall, the themes grappled with are interesting enough to keep the story moving.