Martin Scorsese has been wanting to make Silence for decades now. And though it’s a major departure from the films he’s made in that time, I think it’s safe to say that it was worth the wait. This is his most challenging film to date: a movie that provokes big questions about faith, selfishness, pride and wisdom. But to get there, viewers will have to be extremely patient and have a strong stomach.
Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver (who both gave career-best performances this year in Hacksaw Ridge and Paterson, respectively) play Fathers Rodrigues and Garrpe, who travel from Portugal to Japan to find their missing mentor (Liam Neeson), who has been rumored to have abandoned his faith after being tortured by local authorities.
Smuggled into the country by ex-pat Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), they find villagers hungry for their preaching, communion and time of confession. But eventually the authorities come calling, demanding they apostatize – publicly give up their faith – or face death. Their martyrdom is only the beginning of a movie with a sizable body count.
All that death begins to take a toll on Rodrigues. He begins to question whether God is listening to his prayers, or the cries of the murdered and tortured. He even grapples with whether his mission – to spread his faith across Japan – is causing more harm than good. And if that’s true, what is his purpose on earth even supposed to be?
If you came for easy answers, you won’t find them in Silence. That may make its nearly three-hour running time feel like a waste. But I would bet that even people who aren’t immediately awed by Silence will be thinking and talking about it for years to come. I know I will.
Even if it’s somewhat unsatisfying in that regard, Silence also boasts gorgeous cinematography, outstanding costume design, and characters who defy simple categorization. The local authorities who imprison, torture and kill the local Christians are never presented as one-dimensional monsters. In fact, Issey Ogata plays the Grand Inquisitor, and his interrogations of Rodrigues are some of the most thematically rich dialogue of the year. It also provides Liam Neeson with his best role in more than a decade.
Opinions will probably be sharply divided on Silence. If you’re a fan of Scorsese’s high-energy epics with Leonardo DiCaprio, be prepared. This is a much slower, more cerebral movie. But for the patient viewer – whether they’re Christian or not – this is one of the best, most impactful moviegoing experiences of the year.