DIR: Martin Scorsese • WRI: Martin Scorsese, Jay Cocks • PRO: Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Barbara De Fina, Randall Emmett, David Lee, Gastón Pavlovich, Martin Scorsese, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Irwin Winkler • DOP: Rodrigo Prieto • ED: Thelma Schoonmaker • DES: Dante Ferretti • MUS: Kathryn Kluge, Kim Allen Kluge • CAST: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tabanobu Asano, Ciaran Hinds, Shinya Tsuckamoto, Yosuke Kubozuka, Issey Ogata, Yoshi Oida
Religion has always had prevalence in Martin Scorsese’s work. The veteran director grew up in Little Italy. It was a community polarised by religion and organised crime, perhaps more specifically by Catholicism and violence. His upbringing manifested in his early filmography, the French New Wave influenced Who’s That Knocking on My Door (1967) and Mean Streets (1973). Especially in Mean Streets as the films protagonist overtly struggles between his devout Catholicism and his gangster lifestyle. Mean Streets coupled with Goodfellas (1990) solidified Scorsese as the quintessential gangster filmmaker, surpassing Francis Ford Coppola, and spawning many inferior copycats.
However, if you look at Scorsese’s filmography as a whole it suggests a very different kind of filmmaker. Mobsters only make up a percentage of his modus operandi. Catholic guilt has always been an undercurrent of Scorsese’s work through symbolism and imagery, some subtle, some not so subtle in his films. Silence is Scorsese’s 3rd film after The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Kundun (1997) where religion is the pervading theme. Rather than hidden in his character’s psyche, it is out there plain to see and to deliberate on.
Silence tells the story of two Jesuit priest Rodrigues (Garfield) and Garrpe (Driver) who travel to Japan for a duel propose. They are to preach and practice outlawed Catholicism and to find their mentor, Ferreira (Neeson). Ferreira is rumoured to have apostatised and taken up the Buddhist religion, a slander unfathomable for the young idealist priests. From the beginning Scorsese doesn’t hold back on crucifixion imagery. The opening is brutal, harkening back to Mel Gibson’s notorious The Passion of the Christ (2004). Thankfully, Scorsese spares us from witnessing such cruelty at length, save from a couple of scenes later on in the film.
Silence, shot by Rodrigo Prieto, paints a gorgeous and treacherous journey for the Jesuits. A sense of adventure is felt as they first swim to the shores of Japan (Silence was actually shot in Taiwan). The huge risk they are taking is always there, highlighted by the films grim opening scenes. They will encounter secret Christian villages. The trials of the villagers in the name of their God will test the limits of their pure and devout Catholicism.
Rodrigues is very much the film’s protagonist. It is an excellent performance from Andrew Garfield as a man whose very purpose in life is questioned and whose faith is tested to its very limitations as Japanese Buddhists torture anyone who declares themselves Catholic. Importantly Rodrigues himself isn’t subjected to physical torture but the Japanese endeavour to break him mentally. Rodrigues is God’s representative on earth, can he stand by and witness such immeasurable cruelty, as God’s silence exposes him to the harshest of mental anguish. The role was initially meant for Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, who for obvious reasons would be better physically and vocally equipped to play a Portuguese Jesuit. In his absence however it is no surprise that Scorsese was drawn to Garfield, his appearance uncanny to the popular artist rendering of Christ. His face brings a certain boyish innocence to a tough role. A career highlight to date.
With Silence Scorsese asks many universal religious questions without attempting to provide any answers. He doesn’t have an argument, rather a burning passion and an intense interest in the question of religion itself. Allegories can be found in the modern world, decapitated Christian heads remind one of Islamist extremism but this is not Scorsese’s raison d’etre. Scorsese is interested in the relationship between religion and humanity throughout time. This disparity is awe-inspiring for him and this seeps onto the screen with some of his best filmmaking in years. Gone is the frenzied style of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Departed (2006). Silence is made with care and devotion. It is a film that will get everyone who pays attention thinking, questioning, even the atheists among us.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Silence is released 1st January 2017