As the lights of the movie theatre dims, and as voices fade, the word “Silence” appears on the black screen. And as the film ends in flames, the cathartic process is compassed: the blood that has been shed throughout the movie is now purified by the fire. Upon leaving the theatre, I felt quite satisfied, even though the vast array of questions posited throughout the movie aren’t fully answered.
This is not an odd film, but the reviews seem to be quite mixed and it is “only” rewarded for its cinematography at the Oscars (which is the driving force of the movie). A lot of reviews criticise it for its Manichaeism and for being painfully slow, making the spectator the real martyr. Therefore, I would like to show that Silence is in fact a Platonic dialogue, leaving the spectator in the Silence of doubt. As to the second point, it is part of the game.
What is the the film about? The plot is quite simple as the fog exposes the situation in Nagasaki, Japan where Christians are being persecuted along with the Portuguese missionaries by the local authorities, commanded by Inoue Sama, the inquisitor. Two young priests, father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and father Garupe (Adam Driver), take it upon themselves to leave Macao and go to Japan to find their mentor, father Ferreira (Liam Neeson, in all his Jedi wisdom). Aware of the cruelties the Catholic Church committed, I begun watching the film with a sceptical eye. However, Silence is tormented by the difficulty of grasping faith and conversion in their representation.
The Sound of Silence
The word “silence” itself becomes a litany throughout the film as it is reiterated obsessively, making the film a long prayer… but who is it for? “I pray but I am lost, am I just praying to silence?” asks Garfield’s doubt stricken priest, Rodrigues. Silence becomes the very matter that makes our protagonist anxious. Therefore, the film is about the monologic dialogue one entertains with God. Andrew Garfield was not only well casted for his Christ-like beauty highlighted by his leonine long locks, but also for his boyish naivety and tenderness. Father Rodrigues, is shown as a less absolutist and dogmatic priest than Father Garupe as he emphasises on his flock’s faith and love for God rather than knowledge. We follow the young priest as he is on a quest to follow Jesus and what it is to love. (*spoiler*)”You are about to preform the greatest act of love” says Father Ferreira as he guides Father Rodrigues to renouncing the Catholic Church by stepping on an image of Christ. Is one’s personal glory in an institution more important than the effectuation of one’s beliefs and values in order to save others? In the end, faith is the assured expectation of the demonstration of things unseen, which makes for a complexe metaphysical question for a movie. I wonder how its 1966 source novel by Shusaku Endo displays it.
Can there be one truth when there seems to be many truths?
This question is articulated is one central scene in the movie, held between the Inquisitor Inoue (played by the impressive Issei Ogata) and Rodrigues. This entails a reflection on the link between nature and culture. Can a culture replace another culture when their nature is so different? Cinematographically speaking, nature is an omnipresent force in the movie as it seems to beat up and reject the Christians. The Japanese country side, (filmed in Taiwan) is gracefully filmed producing a sublime emotion when faced with the immensity of nature. Inoue-sama, says that the dark Japanese soil does not welcome the infertile christian seeds planted by the Portuguese missionaries. Rodrigues retorts that the soil has been poisoned. Father Ferreira quotes a Japanese proverbe along the lines of: “mountains and streams can be moved, but not Japanese human nature”. These two thesis battle each other and allow Scorsese to find a certain peace in the praise of personal faith and of a personal relationship with God, as opposed to an invasive, colonial religion. It is also a movie that tackles with guilt and forgiveness as it Kichijiro follows our main protagonist like a shadow in order to confess, he is like Peter who denounces Jesus three times and is still forgiven.
Martin Scorsese has said that making films have been his way of exercising his faith. This is clear as he attempts to show that apostasy is an adaptation of religious faith in a place where institution cannot grow, INtuition is more valuable than simple tuition. Cross-fertilisation, the creation of a new plant through the synthesis or synesthesia of different cultures. This is clearly something close to Scorsese’s heart as he says the following of his faith: “The connection is that it has never been interrupted. It’s continuous. I never left. In my mind, I am here every day.”
The first thing to criticise, is the use of language. From time to time, Portuguese words are inserted, such as “Deus”(also latin) and “paraiso” and the fact they call the priests “padres”. It just makes some details as wobbly as their accents, completely forgotten by Liam Neeson. Being half Portuguese I appreciated the representation of Portuguese history.
In this movie, Catholicism’s claim to be a universal truth is questioned and relativism is seen as a unfulfilling answer. The movie itself does not seem to give answers, but is the first instalment of a Platonic dialogue.