A passion project that’s been in development since the 1990s, Silence takes a considered and meticulous look at faith, religious persecution and the ethics of missionary work.
It’s based on the 1966 novel by Shusako Endo and follows two Jesuit priests travelling to Japan in the seventeenth century. Fathers Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) intend to save the soul of their mentor Father Ferreira who has renounced his religious belief in the country’s atmosphere of Christian persecution. Their arrival on Japanese shores endangers the lives of those villagers practising Christianity in secret and the violence acted upon them by the Japanese Inquisitor puts Ferreira’s abandonment of the religion in a new light.
Silence is a million miles away from Scorsese’s previous film, the loud, brash and unrestrained Wolf Of Wall Street. It’s intricate and subtle: two hours forty minutes of slow-burn drama that demands patience and commitment from its audience.
The story is one of internal struggle and the sedate pacing plays a crucial part in our appreciation of Rodrigues’ torment. After a brief sojourn as Marvel’s Spider Man Andrew Garfield revisits the dramatic intensity of The Social Network and Never Let Me Go. His grapple with the silence of God in the face of such violence is potent and affecting. Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice makes martyrdom a gruelling temptation and the pressure for outward devotion seems at odds with a merciful and forgiving Christian God. Garfield’s characterisation encapsulates a delicate and powerful exploration of the complexities and contradictions of the Catholic faith.
Writing with Jay Cocks (The Age Of Innocence, Gangs Of New York), Scorsese brings us dialogue laden with human complexity. Verbal sparring between Rodrigues and the Inquisitor (an artful and devious Issei Ogata) teases out the value of spiritual parable and the meaning of truth. That the conflict between an oppressive government and the enthusiastic missionaries flooding its shores leaves the idea of complete religious freedom somewhere off camera is the film’s subtlest and most salient point.