As someone who doesn’t particularly subscribe to any sort of fundamental belief system, I’ve been gradually becoming more and more interested in religion this year. Not so much in the sense of the history behind it, but more so how individuals process it and apply it to their day-to-day lives. The most stimulating part of Silence was working through all of the questions and ideas that Scorsese was proposing to the audience. Whereas the Andrew Garfield-led Christianity-based vehicle from last month presented this idealistic lifestyle of a believer, Scorsese tackles the subject of religion in a much different fashion.
Set amidst 17th-century during the age of Kakure Kirishitan, Scorsese’s latest follows two Jesuit priests who voyage to the dangerous terrain of Japan to unearth their estranged mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira (played by Liam Neeson). Despite the source material being fifty years old, Scorsese’s adaptation has been a subject of speculation for years now. With a mention in just about every piece predicting the lineup of a major film festival since Cannes 2015, the long wait for Scorsese’s passion project is finally over, but I can’t help but feel disappointed with the final outcome.
With some of Scorsese’s most provocative imagery in years, as well as one of his most distinct ensembles, there’s no question that there is much to admire in Silence, but there’s something missing, at least for me. The film takes on the perspective of Father Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), as he makes his journey through Japan. Often relishing in his character’s pain, there’s this sense of sympathy for Garfield and Driver’s characters that Scorsese does a magnificent job of establishing, but there’s no real sense of compassion or even a focus set upon those traumatically affecting Garfield. It’s a conflicting dilemma for the film, as the equilibrium of compassion is so swayed towards its central character.
It, of course, makes sense that Garfield’s character is presented with the most compassion, but I can’t help but feel that Scorsese is ambivalent towards the representation of the believers in the film. The key internal conflict for a majority of characters in the film is over whether or not to die for one’s own beliefs, but so much of Silence revolves around Garfield internalizing the horrors that he’s seeing. Not to reduce the tragedies that his character is experiencing, but there’s very little sense of perspective for those enduring the hardships in which he’s witnessing for a majority of the film.
For the lack of perspective that there is for the countless victims of the film, the conflict within the film’s narration comes partially to fault in the change between perspectives. Starting off with Neeson at the helm and quickly transitioning to Garfield, the jumbled perspective within the voiceover certainly doesn’t work. There’s so much emphasis placed upon how Rodrigues is dealing with what feels like an endless wave of trauma, but the switch in narration draws away from this focus. It also does not help that Silence uses its voiceover to substitute bits of information that appear difficult to work into the context of the script. The narration seems like an alternative method for adapting the more expository elements of the novel, but it doesn’t feel in-tune with the rest of Scorsese’s sensibilities here.
As aesthetically pleasing as the final shot may be, it sets a conflicting notion over the film’s overall thematic message. I feel like a large part of my reservations here are systemic to its final shot. Scorsese spends so much of the film throwing out theological and moral proposals at the audience, but his closing shot threw me for a loop, as it seemed to contradict so much of what he was doing before. I’m hoping upon repeated viewings of Silence, which almost seems mandatory to fully wrap your head around the thing, that I’ll come around more to the film. Current reservations asides, this is certainly one of the most unique studio pictures of the year that requires every inch of your attention span.