Scorsese has made several films that are challenging for an audience. Even some
of his most acclaimed pictures, such as Raging
Bull, are difficult to watch and “enjoy.” Scorsese tackles hard truths
about the human condition, and many times they’re unpleasant and disturbing.
Sometimes the dramas he explores are not what one would call a “good time at
doesn’t mean they’re bad. On the contrary, great art often requires an audience
to meet it halfway, to capitulate and embrace the pain that is at the heart of
what the artist has intended to convey.
Silence is one of those
films. A decades-long passion project for the director, based on the novel by
Shūsaku Endō, it is about the
“silence” of God that is the biggest obstacle faced by people of faith. The
subject matter would have been at home in hands of someone like Ingmar Bergman,
who tackled this topic several times in his career. Nevertheless, Scorsese’s oeuvre has often been informed by his
Catholic upbringing and his struggles with it. While his 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ, was a
deeply personal and, yes, a religious picture,
it was met with controversy and even banning in some territories. Silence is an even more religious
statement from the master filmmaker, and it, too, has received mixed responses.
Some hailed it as a masterpiece. Others said it was an overlong, colossal bore.
Silence is a period piece
that takes place in 17th Century Japan, when Portuguese Jesuit
priests were attempting to bring Christianity to that feudal kingdom. One
particular priest, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), had gone to Japan on such a
mission, but news comes back to Portugal that he has renounced his faith and disappeared.
Two young priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam
Driver) are sent to locate him to find out what happened—and spread the Gospel
while they’re at it.
doesn’t go well. The priests encounter the cruel and calculating samurai known
as the “Inquisitor” (magnificently portrayed by Issey Ogata), who does
everything in his power to crush the priests’ objective, wipe Christianity from
his land, and keep an iron hold on the citizens’ beliefs. Different methods of
torture are his preferred weapons of rule. As time passes, the priests’ faith
is severely compromised—but Rodrigues hangs on, fighting with every fiber of
his being to the bitter end.
doesn’t come for two hours and forty-one minutes.
lies the problem I had with what otherwise was one of the most
gorgeously-photographed motion pictures I’ve seen in years. The cinematography
by Rodrigo Prieto earned an Oscar nomination—and probably should have won. The
production and costume designs by Dante Ferretti should have also at least received
nods. The movie is indeed beautiful to look at, on par with such visual feasts
as Barry Lyndon, Days of Heaven, and The Tree
just… long. And very slow. The meditative pace, intentional as it is, serves
the subject and the picture well up to a point. The movie is additionally extremely
quiet; the soundtrack consists of mostly sounds of nature along with delicate period
music of an Eastern flavor by Kathryn and Kim Allen Kluge. The relentless
suffering of the characters—in silence—takes its toll. Perhaps that’s what
Scorsese wanted to do. To test the audience, just as the priests are tested.
acting, especially by Garfield, shows extreme dedication to the material. Both he
and Driver lost a good deal of weight for their roles. At one point during
filming, as recounted in the documentary supplement on the disk, the entire
cast and crew broke for lunch on a beach—but the two actors chose to stay in a
boat away from shore and not participate in the meal.
new Paramount Blu-ray disk exquisitely captures the film. It looks fantastic,
as it should, with a 1080p High Definition transfer. There are several sound
options—5.1 DTS HD Master Audio in English, and other languages in 5.1 Dolby
Digital. The only supplement is the aforementioned making-of featurette, Martin Scorsese’s Journey Into Silence,
which provides a satisfying overview of the production and its genesis.
of Martin Scorsese should give Silence a
chance, but don’t expect the flash-bang editing of GoodFellas. This is an art film of the highest order, one that you
may find very rewarding if your endurance makes it to its final, glorious image
before the end credits.