An atheist, a Christian, a Buddhist and a Catholic walk into a theater to see "Silence." As they are leaving, the Buddhist says, "Did you see Buddha in the film walking invisibly across the characters' hearts?" The Christian says, "Did you see the power of love and how it gives us strength?" The Catholic says, "Did you see the holy church carry these penitent men across their sins?" The atheist looks at all of them and says, "God never existed. We all die alone." In the context of this film, all of them are correct.
"Silence" is Martin Scorsese's passion project. He spent close to three decades trying to get it made, which it almost was in 2009 with Gael Garcia Bernal, Benicio del Toro and Daniel Day-Lewis in the three main roles. The film entered development hell, causing Scorsese to work on "Hugo" and "Shutter Island" instead.
The film is based on the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo, which was already adapted by Masahiro Shinoda into a 1971 film of the same name. Endo's novel was profoundly interesting because he took on the story of Japanese religion and Jesuit priests from the rare perspective of a Japanese Roman Catholic.
"Silence" tells the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests in Macau who are told that their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) renounced his faith under torture while preaching in Japan. Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) don't believe that Ferreira would commit apostasy, so they set off to be smuggled into Japan and find the truth of the matter. Since this is deep in the 17th century, it was illegal to be a Christian and priests and converts alike were tortured or put to death unless they renounced their faith.
The first half of the movie plays like an old-fashioned adventure story, as Rodrigues and Garupe sneak into Japan, hiding in the mountains as Japanese peasants come to them for communion, confession and to feel close to God and Jesus. Watching these men and women, priests and Christians alike, desperate to practice their religion, even under the threat of death is awe-inspiring.
If "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "Kundun" are about men coming to terms with divinity, then "Silence" is about someone close to God coming to terms with being human. As uniformly excellent as the cast is (including Tadanobu Asano and Issey Ogata almost stealing the movie), it's really the story of Andrew Garfield's Father Rodrigues. It's his faith that we watch slowly crumble throughout the 161-minute running time, and Garfield is a revelation.
From the exquisite sound design that uses silence like a weapon, the sumptuous photography of Rodrigo Prieto whose use of fog here rivals that of Bergman and Tarkovsky, and the absolutely flawless composition of Scorsese, who just might have made his masterpiece here, "Silence" is a towering and stunning achievement.
This film doesn't just want us to question our faith or lack thereof. It wants us to re-examine the symbols we clutch, the way we converse with each other and the connective tissue that makes us all human beings. "Silence" is a complex work of art and a surreal journey into the heart of a man, while making no apologies for its dense, mythological structure. In 10 to 15 years you won't have to seek this movie out. It will be taught in schools and humanity will be better for it.
Dir. Martin Scorsese
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX