From the moment Martin Scorsese finished reading Shusaku Endo's Silence he has wanted to make this movie. This is the definition of passion project and has taken over 20 years to finally reach our cinema screens.
The question that therefore requires an answer is 'was it worth it'?
Silence is the tale of of two Jesuit priests (Garfield & Driver) who travel to Japan in search of their mentor Fr. Ferreria (Liam Neeson) who is believed to have renounced his faith. Failing to believe this could be the case the pair set off to find Ferreria and pastor the oppressed in Japan.
The first thing to say in regard to Silence is that it is a beautiful film. Every shot, every location seems to have been considered with great care (as you would expect for a passion project). The other slightly unnerving aspect is the score because there really isn't one! Crickets and the wind make up the majority of the score and this is highly unusual for a director like Scorsese to whom music plays such a vital role in their work.
The journey of Frs.Rodrigues and Garupe are both physical and spiritual as they hunger after food and shelter as much they do their mentor and the pastoral needs of those they encounter. The film's main focus is the journey of Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) with Grape (Adam Driver) disappearing on a separate journey around half way through. Garfield plays his part well and is left to wrestle prayerfully with his doubt, the silence go God in the face of oppression and what it means to retain belief in the face of adversity.
The oppression of villagers who have converted to Christianity is uncompromising and a lingering camera throughout their pain and suffering is deeply unsettling. One sequence, with villagers hanging on crosses while facing an oncoming tide seems to last for an age. If the brutality of this moment is the focus, the point is certainly well made but for me the point was the enduring faith of the oppressed who amidst torture refuse to compromise. Theses scenes whilst brutal have deep impact. I could not help but consider my own privilege as a white, straight westener with the freedom to practice whichever faith I choose.
This leads me to my favourite character Kichijiro. He is guide for the journey and also the character with perhaps the best understanding of faith.
He is a complicated man, who we learn has renounced his faith, has watched his family burn for their beliefs and comes to confession time and again to have his sins forgiven. Towards the end of the film Rodrigues looks at him with such disdain as he kneels in front of him yet again. This was a standout moment for me. He looks at him in disbelief, and almost with disdain, that he would have the nerve to come again asking to be absolved again. This a character though who understands the meaning of grace, a character who wrestles with his moral compass and loses regularly. What Kichijiro has learnt from visiting missionaries is that he CAN do this time and again and it counts as much as it did the first time he asked. This is a deep understanding of grace an understanding that no matter what has been done it will be forgiven by God no matter what any priest may think! To come asking for forgiveness time and again, when so many would walk away is a testament to the faith of a true believer!
Silence is a wonderful expression of faith, doubt and theological wrestling, at times it is a breath taking cinematic experience. For me, this was a truly enjoyable cinematic outing. However, if theological discussion are not the types of conversation you care for, I can understand that some may find this epic to be slow, dull and a real non event.