Director Martin Scorsese spent over a decade trying to get “Silence” made and the result is a personal, harrowing portrayal of faith found, faith lost, perhaps faith never there in the first place. It’s hard to believe this is the same filmmaker who made “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
It is the 1600s. Two Portuguese Jesuit priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), travel to feudal Japan to find their old master, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who rumor has it has forsaken Christianity. Once they sneak into the country, the persecution of Christians by the Japanese authorities becomes all too personal for them.
It’s a little hard to believe in Andrew Garfield as Portuguese, but otherwise, he delivers a great performance. In a film all about the debate of faith, so much of the acting has to be internalized and Garfield serves as a vessel for that debate, the inner conflict within him evident throughout his performance.
The film is shot as religious allegory, beautifully capturing the isolation of the countryside, the atmosphere very much a character in the story. Rodrigues arrives with much goodwil, perhaps even blind faith, never truly tested before. The pressures put on him by the Japanese oligarchy test his limits and serve as an exploration of his devotion, the natural world both destructive and additive to that purpose.
Some have criticized the film for being too one-note, but there are significant progressions over the course of the story, rising physical and mental tortures that push Rodrigues. The conclusion is surprising and interesting, not the Hollywood ending one might expect. It is a very carefully told story, crafted with love and devotion, an old hymn from long ago that is still pertinent today.