“It’s just a formality. Only a formality.”
A work of genuine passion and craftsmanship needs only a few ideas to keep it afloat, no matter the length. In this case, grand-auteur Martin Scorsese chooses faith and identity.
You could say that his three most recent films all deal with faith; Hugo addressing faith in art, The Wolf of Wall Street dispensing faith in money, and now Silence, his long-gestating passion project, dissecting the most dissected form of faith there is: religion.
Andrew Garfield knocks another one out of the park as Sebastian, a young Jesuit priest in 1637 sent from Spain to spread Christianity in Japan. While he and Fransisco (Adam Driver) inspire what little is left of Christ’s tatters in the far east, they also perk their ears for news of their early inspiration, the long-lost Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson).
What the young duo lack in experience, they make up for in candor. That is, until too many suffer and die because of the state’s suspicions of their arrival. Once found, there is little hope of them continuing to cling to their faith.
Japanese inquisitors and other officials use brutal but swift violence to continue state-sponsored Buddhism’s stranglehold on the country. Through their truly medieval methods, they hope to break the spirits of incoming priests in order to seduce them into becoming permanent apostates in Japan. Thus, they ideally serve as warnings to cross-carriers.
Scorsese is masterful in his exploration of the two ideologies. He neither praises nor condemns either side, but rather depicts the unfortunate standoff in a matter-of-fact way which somehow never belittles the emotions of his main character.
In other words, the blunt of the actual suffering is felt physically and externally, but Silence additionally attempts to draw us into the internal suffering that such a choice between two worlds might represent. In my humble opinion, it succeeds.
Silence = A