Based upon Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 fictional account of persecution faced by a 17th Century Portuguese Jesuit Missionary - Sebastião Rodrigues - and Kakure Kirishitans - Japanese Roman Catholics who went underground after the Shimabara rebellion and practiced their faith in secret for fear of persecution and torture. Silence, the latest from iconic director (and one time trainee Priest) Martin Scorsese is, in every sense, a passion project.
Two fresh-faced, idealistic Priests: Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) are dispatched to Japan to try and discover the fate of Ferreira (Liam Neeson), their spiritual mentor. He, who has long since broken communications with the Catholic Church and is rumoured to have committed apostasy. In the opening sequence we first meet Ferreira, bearing witness to the brutal, large scale torture of Japanese Christians and being told to apostatise and renounce his faith to end the suffering of his flock. The Director’s trademark flair for violence evident from the start.
Garfield excels as the young priest, engendering a warmth and empathy that, as a staunch atheist, others may have struggled to coax from me. His doe-eyes are perfect for conveying devout conviction and internal conflict when faced with God’s silence and the pain at witnessing the brutality and cruelty endured by the native Christian martyrs. Rodrigues is resolutely prepared to suffer for the sake of his own faith but is almost tangibly tormented, forced to decide showing Christian mercy or selfishly refusing to denounce his faith and end others’ suffering. The actor’s big baby-browns are maybe just too watery to raise any serious debate over the potential blinkered arrogance of the Missionaries in their refusal to consider traditional Buddhist beliefs.
An emaciated Adam Driver is also excellent as the more impulsive and perhaps more interesting of the two priests, though his early sidelining meant he felt underused. He does get bonus points for being the only cast member committed (or competent?) enough to truly give the Portuguese accent a decent attempt. Garfield gives it his best shot but Father Valignano (Ciarán Hinds) and Qui-Gon Jinn seem to be resolutely sticking to their native brogues.
Though Silence is relentless and often gruelling to watch, there is light relief in the Judas-like opportunist Kichijiro (Yōsuke Kubozuka) whose repeated confessions to Rodrigues serve to demonstrate perhaps how little comprehension of the faith they are practicing the locals actually have.
For the most part the film is impassioned and captivating, it is on occasion inert and frustrating and perhaps a touch anti-climactic, but always stunningly shot and thematically meaty enough to keep committed audiences gripped. Kathryn Kluge and Kim Allen Kluge’s delicate music, serves a stark contrast to accentuate the agonised cries of the tortured martyrs and the baron foggy landscapes, traditionally associated with tranquility, the perfect underscore to the savage abuse portrayed.
Those looking for escapism or an epic adventure to immerse themselves in may come away feeling forestalled, the enjoyment in Silence comes from the internalised debates raised throughout this meditative crusade.