Movie Review: Silence

Martin Scorsese’s new film focuses on the story of two young Portuguese priests who travel to Japan to find their mentor and support the local, persecuted Christians.

Andrew Garfield as Padre Rodrigues comforting one of the Japanese Christians (Photo: Silence)
Andrew Garfield as Padre Rodrigues comforting one of the Japanese Christians (Photo: Silence)

It’s been a week since watching Scorsese’s new film, Silence. Set in 17th century Japan, it’s a powerful and serious movie, which touches on many existential and cultural themes.

Silence has a strong cast, including Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson as Portuguese priests, and a bunch of great Japanese actors. All of them portray their characters well and the scenes between the priests and Japanese Christians, as well as Garfield and the Japanese inquisitors really drew me in to the lives of those on screen.

As I said, it’s a serious movie, and one of the most prevalent themes is suffering. From the crucifixions to the torture, the film is an almost endless stream of fear, anguish, faith and hope. The inquisitors portray an almost nonchalant sadism as they pressure the Christians to renounce their faith. It thus raised many questions about the extent to which one can persevere, as those around you are being tortured and murdered because of your refusal to publicly denounce your faith.

One of the stand-out aspects that one notices is that there’s basically no music throughout the entire film. I liked this, because often music dictates how we are meant to interpret any given scene, but Silence is pure and raw. You interpret the scenes based on what you see and what your mind is thinking. Particularly efficacious was the end of the movie, as the credits started, where there was nothing but the sound of nature. There was somewhat of an awkwardness, insofar as the audience was left to leave the cinema not to triumphant, sad or thought-provoking music, but merely with their own thoughts – with silence.

Tadanobu Asano as one of the Buddhist inquisitors (Photo: Silence)
Tadanobu Asano as one of the Buddhist inquisitors (Photo: Silence)

The reason that Silence was called so is, I believe, because one of the story’s themes is how we can accept God’s existence in the midst of so much suffering. It’s a common question in monotheism which I won’t go in to here. For me, there was something else which captured my thoughts.

I can’t remember who originally said it, but it is commonly pointed out that it is in silence that we come to know God. In a way, the language of God is silence. The reason why faith has dropped significantly in western culture isn’t fundamentally because of some transcendence of humanity by means of scientific discoveries; it’s in large part because we have lost the silence in our lives. In a word, we are distracted.

From the invention of the radio, to the television, to the internet and so much more, all of these innovations, as useful as they are, have created a barrier between us and silence – a barrier between us and the existential questions that define our purpose and meaning.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that most people cannot stand silence. Silence is almost torture. We cannot be left alone with our thoughts. We have to be doing something to escape its omnipresence.

Japanese Christians (Photo: Silence)
Japanese Christians (Photo: Silence)

In this film, I could feel the strength of silence as the Christians prayed together, and I could feel the agony of silence, as the priest suffered whilst the Japanese Christians were tortured. Through it all, I really appreciated the power of silence and how we need much more of it in our culture today.

Some have said that the film is too long – and it is long – but for me it was fine. The film had me captivated throughout and there was never a moment when I thought about the time. Perhaps the film is not for the masses, as its themes include existentialism, culture and religion, and it shows a lot of raw human suffering, so some may find it difficult to focus.

Curiously, I find it difficult to give Silence a rating. I think one reviewer summarised it well, saying that Silence isn’t a film that you like or dislike, but one which you experience. I think that’s a good assessment.

Silence is a powerful movie that raises a lot of interesting themes within the context of a fascinating period of history. But ultimately it’s for everyone to watch and experience for themselves.