Jesuit priest Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson), amid a 17th century Japanese mission environment of torture and persecution, reportedly apostatizes the Christian faith to prevent more Japanese converts from being harmed.
Two young priests who were raised into the faith under the tutelage of Ferreira, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver), decide to venture to Japan to find Ferreira and an explanation.
When Rodrigues and Garupe land on the Japanese shore, it becomes clear that their resolve may not be enough for what they are up against. In a delightfully simple move, Scorsese shows the two Portuguese priests with a band of Japanese Christians who worship in secret. They eat together, and the plight of a single day’s travel fatigues the two priests enough that they forget to pray before eating. The disparity between the priests and these converts who face the danger of torture every day is fascinating, as well as a sign of what’s to come.
At one time, Martin Scorsese challenged Christianity with the question of Christ’s humanity. Now, with more maturity, he tackles Christianity with a question of the faith’s ability to create resolve in the face of awesome adversity. The two priests succumb to temptation. They become weak in solitude. And this is before they officially meet the inquisitors.
The visual and narrative constructions of Silence are impeccable. Shots are designed wide and deep, but they are often sparse as well. Glories of God are on full display but are also left empty. Fog enters these shots, but only when they are revealing (or, rather, concealing) what could cause questioning of faith to the characters.
The editing also puts on a display. A character’s coverage will be cut between so that over the course of an edit we see the same character from different angles. The result is something that is jarring but dynamic. It is an eye-inviting approach to the shot-reverse shot system, making the most basic building blocks of editing feel refreshing and rhythmic.
Silence is a profound epic of doubt and agonizing persecution. It is an exceedingly simplistic narrative with deeper and more complex issues laying beneath the surface. The ideological struggle embedded at the heart of this film is an inherently compelling one. Doubt becomes blind faith becomes doubt, and then the cycle restarts like Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka) asking for forgiveness only to return to the apostatized state of desecrating Christ’s image with his foot.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)