|Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.|
Martin Scorsese's powerful and frequently punishing "Silence" is that rare film, delivering a picture that you'd more expect to see from the likes of Ingmar Bergman or Carl Theodor Dreyer than a film produced in the U.S. This is the director's third movie that revolves around faith, the first two being the controversial "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "Kundun," and it's highly successful because it's the type of film on the subject that poses challenging questions and doesn't presume to answer them.
This is the second film of the same name based on the novel by Shusaku Endo (there's also a 1972 filmed version of the story) and it's a harrowing experience. As the film opens, two Jesuit priests from Portugal named Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) put in a request to travel to Japan in the 1640s to try to find their spiritual mentor (Liam Neeson) after a letter has arrived proclaiming that he has denounced his faith and his fellow Jesuits and Japanese Christians have been brutally tortured. So, you get a pretty good idea of how you'll spend the next two hours and 40 minutes.
Upon arriving in Japan, the two Jesuits are forced to sneak around the countryside and avoid a man known as the Inquisitor, but goes by the name Inoue (Issei Ogata), who seems to take a certain amount of glee in discovering Christians and making them suffer. Along the way, Rodrigues and Garrpe are helped by a band of Japanese Christians, whose devoutness impresses them, and Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), a proclaimed Christian who certainly tests the bounds of friendship with Rodrigues due to his constant betrayals.
After finally - and inevitably - being discovered, Rodrigues undergoes all manner of torture, although a majority of it is watching others suffer. Inoue wants him to denounce his own faith and, as a means to get him to comply, tortures his own people who practice Christianity in order to guilt Rodrigues into giving in. As a final measure, Rodrigues is allowed to learn the truth about Father Ferreira (Neeson), which leads to a fascinating and slightly ambiguous conclusion.
If anything, "Silence" is a powerful testimony to the mantra that actions speak louder than words. The film's title is also apropos as it presents a method of devotion and rebellion for Rodrigues even after he is forced to comply with actions that he clearly regrets. The film's final shot sort of spells this out, but there's an interesting question posed earlier to Rodrigues by his former mentor on how one can help others in theory by holding onto one's beliefs versus taking the harder road and actually helping by breaking one's own vows.
Although filled with cruelty, the picture is visually gorgeous and Scorsese and company make great use of the country's backdrop, most notably during a scene in which three men are crucified in the sea and another in which Rodrigues and Garrpe hold a meeting in a field.
I won't pretend to know exactly what Scorsese feels about faith, although he apparently studied to be a priest and religion has clearly been a theme in his films - obviously, more overtly in "Last Temptation" or "Silence," but often present in his other pictures as well. The director reportedly has been attempting to make this movie for decades and it's easy to tell that it's an intense, personal passion project. This is a powerful, thoughtful, often devastating and beautifully realized work from a master as well as one of the year's best.