Country: USA, Taiwan, Mexico
Language: English, Japanese, Latin
Genre: Adventure, Drama, History
Director: Martin Scorsese
based on the novel by Shûsaku Endô
Kim Allen Kluge
Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto
Shi Liang 石凉
From this reviewer’s view point as an agnostic, the excruciating question of religious faith, or in fact, any form of belief, is so rigorously emphasized on a person’s exterior conduct, but since our “real” thoughts can only be accessed by ourselves (or the Almighty, if he exists), thus, what is the big fuss if a Christian steps or spit on Jesus’ effigy, which doesn’t necessarily means he apostatizes, because he is the only person who knows about his faith, and if he chooses keeping one’s faith intact inwardly and truly, he is still a good Christian in every respect, not to mention in doing so, he can save innocent lives. That’s one tough lesson learned by the young Father Rodrigues (Garfield) in Martin Scorsese’s passion project SILENCE.
Stuck in pre-production limbo for ages, SILENCE is a self-proclaimed triumph simply because of its very own existence, majorly shot in Taiwan as a surrogate of Japan, it is a tortuous crucible for the two Portuguese Jesuit priests Rodrigues and Garupe (Driver, galvanized with astonishing physical transformation in his latter scenes), to assume their duties in a Christianity-persecuting Japan in the 17th century, with a covert mission to find out what has happened to their mentor Father Ferreira (Neeson), who has been propagating gospel in Japan for over 15 years, but the recent tiding says he has renounced his faith after succumbing to the torture from Japanese authorities.
Breathtaking cinematography is a default attraction borne out of its exotic locale, and SILENCE doesn’t disappoint from DP Rodrigo Prieto, who is landed with the film’s sole Oscar nomination, luxuriant mountains, inclement weather, decrepit villages, grim shorelines, Stygian and foggy night sailing, are the visual accoutrements of the priests and their poverty-ridden believers’ trials and tribulations. Unavoidably, glancing exclusively through a westerner’s eyes, there is no excuse of Japanese government’s high-handed cruelty towards those wretched citizens, which Scorsese doesn’t flinch from presenting with explicitness, and one might argue at certain point, this monotonous practice almost shades into a religious torture porn – the opprobrium which Mel Gibson’s astronomically lucrative THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004) once notoriously received, it turns out, when wrestling with contentious religious topics, not much one can do to avoid being curtained by personal angles, whether you are the populist Gibson, or a more cinema-savvy Scorsese. (Coincidentally, Garfield is the star of both SILENCE and Gibson’s HACKSAW RIDGE 2016, comparing their orbit in the past Awards season, it shows that the populace does plump for the less thornier one, even it is too on-the-nose in its thudding message).
Here, the message is more opaque, after Rodrigues’ meandering faith-clinging-and-violence-witnessing struggle comes to a halt when Ferreira appears in front of his eyes, Rodrigues’ final capitulation shows up his own shortcoming: he yens for dying as a martyr, like J.C. before him, he can endure any corporeal affliction for higher goals, because he wants to believe he is the chosen one here on earth like the former (when he sees J.C.’s image in his own reflection), so what devastates him is that he is exempted from physical crucifixion, alternatively, the devious Japanese inquisitor Inoue Masashige, played by Ogata with affectedly slippery, inflicts him with the burden and responsibility of the sorry ends of other God-botherers, that stratagem effectively dashes Rodrigues’ high-minded illusion and degrades him as a mere mortal, and ultimately he makes the choice as any sensible human would do under that circumstances, and in due time, makes peace with his religion in the closing scene penetrated by a textually surreal shot, when all is said and done, as amorphous and exclusive as one’s own faith is, still, Scorsese needs a token to vouchsafe his reckoning – the little cross. So, my take of this film is less trenchant a testing ground of how one can sustain his faith when facing appalling adversity than a finger-wagging to our nature’s innate egoism, superiority and self-righteousness, after all, humility is and will always be the linchpin of human race, it is the only way to reach one’s peaceful niche and immune to the omnipresent vice.
Garfield takes up another formidable gauntlet and sinks his teeth into a deep-dish tormented character, stoutly embodied with anguish, doubt, obstinacy, disillusion with a shade of dewy-eyed callowness, as for Neeson, he leaves a more neutral tinge of ambiguity in a much hyped character, meanwhile the Japanese cast is purely adornments, more often than not, teetering on the brink of one-note (Asano) or repugnance (Kubozuka).
The losing battle is the self-aware religion debate, which encompasses the big chunk of the conversations between two conflicted denominations, but accentuating God’s silence, which de facto is religion’s most overt attribute, as the clincher of the central story (God has always been, and hopefully will always be remaining in silence, so why would that be a matter of contest to his faithful disciple at any rate? Wouldn’t it be a proviso which every intake has to accept before taking one’s vow?), takes some shine of this film’s profoundness and empathy. It is a hard-sell, but if Scorsese can’t pull if off, one might wonder who else in Hollywood can?