Silence (2016)

Silence (2016)

written by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese

based on the novel 沈黙 Chinmoku by Shūsaku Endō

directed by Martin Scorsese

There’s no doubt Martin Scorsese is one of my favorite directors, equally adept at crime films (1973’s Mean Streets, 1990’s Goodfellas), suspense dramas (2010’s Shutter Island), and morally challenging works such as Taxi Driver (1976) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). He has even taken a crack at period pieces (1993’s The Age of Innocence) and adventure flicks (2011’s Hugo), which may not be amongst his best movies but at least show a willingness to move out of his comfort zone.

Silence may be Scorsese’s most personal film yet. Based on Shūsaku Endō’s novel of the same name, it tells the story of two young Jesuit missionaries traveling to Japan in 1639 in search of their mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), whom the church believes has committed apostasy, the act of renouncing one’s religion. The priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver), come face to face with the brutal reality of a shogunate intent on enforcing a ban on Christianity and punishing anyone who practices it.

For Rodrigues in particular the mission becomes a test of faith, since eventually he is captured and forced to commit apostasy himself. The title of the film references God’s detachment toward the suffering of his followers, as well as the act of practicing in secret a different religion than the one approved by the ruling class. All of this is heavy stuff, and it is evident that for Scorsese, a lapsed Roman Catholic, it strikes a particular chord – in fact, his involvement with Silence dates back to the 1990’s. However, for a project so full of evident passion, I found Silence to be oddly distant and unemotional, too cautious about its subject matter.

Could I have gotten more into Silence as a person who accepts the Christian narrative to be true? I’m not sure. I did immediately question why the Jesuits would want to stay in a place where they were obviously not wanted, just because they believed in their convictions (one of the many problems with religion). But still, I think a good film – and particularly one directed by a master such as Scorsese – could make me care about the Catholics’ plight, whether I agreed with their ideas or not. And from what I have read regarding the novel, Endō was particularly interested in the concept of Jesus as a deity who is meant to suffer along with humans, hence his inability to help them… a fascinating thought that I don’t quite see represented in Scorsese’s adaptation.

Silence raises compelling questions about faith, but fails to find the intensity, the fire, behind faith itself.

Rating: **½

Carlos I. Cuevas

P.S. There are a couple other adaptations of the novel. I am particularly interested in watching 1971’s “Chinmoku” and seeing how it compares to Scorsese’s version.