If The Wolf of Wall Street was Martin Scorsese indulging in a bit of sin, Silence would be his confession, his redemption. Whilst the former is a three-hour orgy of sex, drugs and debauchery, all surface and no substance, his latest is a sprawling epic of spirituality and faith. A passion project for the director, 25-years in the making, this is a top return to form for one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers; an introverted piece of art that makes for an intriguing close relative to his The Last Temptation of Christ.
Already then, just having Scorsese back at the top of his game is enough in of itself to celebrate Silence as an integral milestone in the man’s career. And that’s before you even consider the various other moving parts, from the performances to the photography, that perfectly slot together to make for a solid and utterly compelling bit of cinema.
The silence of the title refers to the film’s score, or lack thereof, that is deliberately used as a tool to reflect its central question: does a silent God mean an absent God? This is pondered often by Andrew Garfield’s Rodrigues, one of two Jesuit priests that travel to Japan during the seventeenth century in search for their mentor, Ferreira, who was last reported to have apostatised due to his torture at the hands of Japan’s Buddhist persecutors. As he and his fellow Padre Garrpe search for thier former teacher, they themselves have their faith and beliefs tested as they are pushed to the limit through constant mental and physical torment.
The way in which the physical is portrayed here is brutal, althogether shockingly swift and painfully slow at the same time, as heads are sliced off and boiling water poured over naked flesh. But it’s the mental turmoil that Scorsese seems far more interested in exploring, using inner monolouges and religious imagery to drill right down to Rodrigues’ character and the spiritual, as well as moral conflict he faces within.
We go on a real journey with him over the 161-minutes that cover decades of his life, and even though the story doesn’t have much going for it in terms of action, it has more than enough character development and debate to keep you engaged the entirety of its long length. Over the course of the film, we see Rodrigues go from a devote and forgiving Christian to one who has to decide whether denouncing his saviour to save the lives of others would be turning his back on God, or following in His footsteps.
After donning the lycra for The Amazing Spider-Man movies, a role I thought Andrew Garfield actually nailed in spite of the film’s other problems, it’s a pleasure to see the young actor tackle something so weighty. We’re not talking an award winning performance, and I don’t think it’s good enough to earn him an Oscar, but it is good enough to put across the multitude of emotions that Scorsese wants to put us through. Adam Driver is intense in his role, but unfortunately underused, and the Japanese cast, namely Tadanobu Asano and Yôsuke Kubozuka are scene-stealingly wonderful.
The thing which stands out most to me, however, is the stunning photography of the film. Shot by Rodrigo Prieto, the visuals are remarkable. Whether it’s something as painterly as the gorgeous, Taiwanese locations, or something so simple as a man holding a crucifix in his hands, each frame of Prieto’s work is rich with beauty.
Even if you’re not religious, even if you don’t believe in a God, all of the above should make Silence a worthwhile experience no matter your beliefs. It is no-frills film-making, film-making that is deep, meaningful and powerful, which also happens to be an extraordinary treat for the eye. It’s good to have you back, Scorsese.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com