Silence (2016)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on January 19, 2017 @ tonymacklin.net.

Silence is part slog, part poem.

It's relentless, redundant, and lugubrious. It's an experience.

Even those of us who are parishioners at the Church of Father Scorsese may find it a punishing Mass. Will the sermon never end?

After a while, one may gasp, "I'll betray my faith in movies. Just let me out of here."

But the irony about Silence may be its lasting power. Initially it may appeal most to religious zealots. But in the long run, of all the films of 2016, Silence may be the film that becomes a classic.

The initial viewing may be off-putting, but as time passes, the better scenes will be remembered, and the others will fade. The experience will become familiar, and the artistry could resonate.

Like many lasting works of art, Silence has not had a strong debut. It's underwhelmed at the box office, and reviews have been uneven. Eventually, Silence may be recognized and appreciated as a work of art, not just as an experience. That's the key to cinematic salvation.

Silence, set in the 17th century, is the story of two Portuguese, Jesuit priests - Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver).[Garrpe in the Shusaka Endo's novel.]

The two priests go to Japan to try to discover what happened to Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who was their mentor. Is he alive? Is his Catholicism intact? It has been reported he has renounced it in Japan.

Japan is in the midst of a brutal crackdown on Catholic missionaries and their converts. Catholicism has been outlawed. All must apostatize - renounce their faith - or be excruciatingly tortured and put to death. Some remain in hiding, but they live in dread and terror.

The two young priests clandestinely arrive, and desperate converts in villages and in hiding seek them out for baptism and communion, hope and solace. But the priests falter and are vulnerable in their quest to bring their values of certainty to an alien land. Can they endure? At what cost?

Father Rodrigues says, "I am a foreigner who brought disaster. That's what they think of me now."

One of the basic points of Silence is the struggle between singular, personal commitment and merciful public action. If the priests renounce their faith, they can halt the terrible suffering and bring mercy. Their moral dilemma is making the choice between one's commitment to God over the lives of other human beings.

One of the most key lines in the film is when Father Ferreira's voice says that people believe in "signs of faith," rather than faith itself.

This may be represented by a fumi-e test, in which one must step on a flat tablet - an icon with the image of Christ. If the person does so, he or she will be freed. Those who refuse will suffer the direst of consequences.

The screenplay for Silence was written by Jay Cocks and director Scorsese, adapted from a renowned novel by Shusaka Endo.

It has telling connections to the present. In 2017 language is corrupted more than usual. A spokesperson for the most powerful politician in America today says his words don't matter. It's "what's in his heart" -not what comes out of his mouth - that matters. Language is a battering ram

Language is devoid of meaning. Fake becomes "truth"; and truth becomes "fake." In sports, almost every play is "unbelievable." No, I saw it, and I believe it. "Hopefully it will rain tomorrow." No, it won't rain in a hopeful manner. "You know." No, I don't know.

In Silence, the priests call Japan the "swamp." They couldn't drain it.

Silence is about integrity and compromise. What compromises has Scorsese had to make in the Church of Cinema? Every time he makes a movie, he has to avoid the fumi-e of cinema.

Scorsese filmed Silence in Taiwan, not Japan. His cast is an apostasy of actors - no Portuguese portray the four priests. Garfield and Driver are California-born. [Garfield's mother is British.] Liam Neeson and Ciaran Hinds are Irish. Maybe the cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto is Portuguese. Nope, he's Mexican.

Scorsese always has had difficulty ending his movies. In Silence he creates an ending more explicit - and commercial - than Endo's more spiritual literary ending. Scorsese, bless him, uses a "sign of faith."

In 2017 Silence is a simmering experience. How will the future decide to judge Scorsese's latest sermon? Will it concentrate on his signs of faith.

Or will the future see his soul?

© 2000-2017 Tony Macklin