Cinematic Releases: Losing My Religion: Silence (2016) - Reviewed

Silence is a film that was twenty-five years in the making and a personal passion project of director Martin Scorsese. It explores the relationship between religion and self-actualization as well as western influence on foreign cultures, especially Japan. The screenplay is based on Shūsaku Endō's (himself a Roman Catholic Japanese man) novel of the same name. Though this film is incredibly indulgent and long, I found the themes presented to be intriguing and thought-provoking. This slower, sprawling type of cinema is becoming more rare in the era of instant gratification, and I am glad to see it still has a place in modern releases.

We follow the journey of two Catholic missionaries: Father Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) as they travel to Nagasaki Japan to find out the fate of their mentor Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Apparently he has renounced Catholicism and disappeared into the countryside. At that period of time in Japan it was considered treason to the empire to be a Christian/Catholic and anyone who was discovered to be practicing that religion was tortured and killed if they did not commit apostasy. Both of the young missionaries discover that there is a large secret undercurrent of Japanese Christians and they vow to help them practice their religion while simultaneously trying to gather info on Ferreira.

Andrew Garfield does an outstanding job with his portrayal of the internally conflicted Rodrigues. He is profoundly moved by the suffering of the Japanese, but at the same time cannot offer them respite because of his secret lust for martyrdom. He falls victim to the Messianic Complex (one who believes that they are some sort of savior) and puts his own view of himself above the pain of others. It is heart-wrenching to watch him struggle with this idea, and with Scorsese's deft direction it is given room to develop and breathe. These men are no "white saviors" they are invaders who are trying to push their ideology on another culture that does not want or need it.

Dear lord, don't let them be out of chicken noodle soup.

I found two performances on the Japanese side to stand out: Tadanobu Asano as a sardonic interpreter and Issey Ogata as Inoue Masashige, the oddly jovial elderly Inquisitor who is in charge of finding the hiding Christians and ultimately torturing them. There is this interesting contrast between the ingrained politeness of Japanese culture and the merciless brutalities that they inflict on their own people. The Inquisitor and Rodrigues (as well as the interpreter) have a few philosophical conversations that are really well done and I enjoyed seeing them play out.

The cinematography, by Rodrigo Prieto (he also worked with Scorsese on Wolf of Wall Street), is beautiful and though this movie wasn't filmed in Japan you wouldn't be able to tell by the gorgeous scenery. Japan is depicted as a mixture of greenery and mist, punctuated by forests and lakes. It lends the atmosphere a rather foreboding and mysterious feel and goes well with the serious narrative. The musical score is almost nonexistent and when it does come in it is quiet and non intrusive. This may have been the best choice because it lets the acting and visuals carry the mood.

Let us stop butting heads over religion!

The title "Silence" has a dual meaning. First, it's referring to the idea of a God that lets bad things happen to his most staunch followers. The deafening silence of unanswered prayers. Secondly, it's about keeping your religious faith close to your heart. Are you more of a martyr by loudly declaring your martyrdom for all to see or by suffering in silence for only the audience of yourself and your god? While the film doesn't give concrete answers to either of these themes, it does let you into the heart of a man who just wants to make a difference in the world. Perhaps religion isn't the answer, but in the end does it really matter?


-Michelle Kisner