The Deafening Sound of Silence
Scorsese bares his soul in this sprawling odyssey of faith, doubt and the systematic persecution of a religious movement. Silence rattles the spiritual cage with a ferocious and drawn-out intensity. It’s a deeply humbling and often punishing experience that challenges fundamental religious ideals and gets under the skin of the complex relationship with God. This is where the scorching power of Silence resides; in the embers of its nuanced portrayal of the doubts and rigours of faith in times of extreme mental and physical hardship.
This isn’t the first time Scorsese has explored religious events in his filmography. Kundun (1977) follows the fourteenth Dalai Lama’s journey into adulthood and oppression at the hands of the Chinese while The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) explores the trials of Jesus. This strand of work is not his most revered but he has shown a relentless passion to adapt Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel that has been tested to the extreme in a turbulent journey spanning the most part of the last 25 years. It’s ironic and fitting for a work so pregnant with steely and unnerving conviction. Almost as if his blood, sweat and tears have tinged the very heart of Rodrigo Prieto’s wondrous cinematography. For all its darkness, Prieto’s lights up the screen with sweeping shots of the beautiful stand-in Taiwanese landscapes.
Jesuit priests in the 17th century, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) make a voyage into Japan to track down their mentor, Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who has reportedly renounced the faith under pressure from the Japanese. The local villagers expectantly wait and see the priests as saviour figures, vessels who confirm the worthiness of their sacrifice. They crave physical manifestations of God, the sacraments offered bring a shred of reality to their struggle. There’s an enormous burden placed on Rodrigues who takes heart and strength from his encounters while Garupe is overcome with loneliness and lack of progress made on their journey.
It’s Rodrigues who forms a closer bond to the group and villager, Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka), in seeks refuge in the priest’s understanding. The weak-minded and guilt-stricken peasant is a character of immense internal conflict. A devout follower of the faith on one hand and a coward on the other. To apostatize is an act explored at length by Scorsese primarily through the eyes of Rodrigues and the actions of Kichijiro and Father Ferreira. Would you renounce your faith if threatened with painful torture and certain death? Where is the line crossed between the pride of piety and the suffering of the common man?
These are questions Scorsese grapples with along with the nature of suffering and why God seemingly permits it. The Mallick-esque voice over by the tremendous Garfield air these theological musings along with a powerful gusto and further strengthens the parallel drawn with Christ. The epic nature and scale is remarkably made to feel intimate but can also be heavy going; the torture sequence at the beach, Garupe’s struggles and the loneliness of martyrdom are mentally exhaustive. Scorsese’s tackles the very essence of faith, the conclusion is sentimental but beautifully poignant, however lost one might feel, the belief of something greater is not misplaced. No matter how loud the roar of silence may become.