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Silence - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews — LiveJournal
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B

One could call Silence a bit of a Rorschach test of faith. It likely plays wildly differently to audiences depending on their own level of piousness. And I mean this as a compliment: Martin Scorsese is offering something here for everyone on the religious spectrum. It's to his credit that I, an atheist, found this story about devout Portuguese priests in 17th-century Japan to be compelling. It's what The Passion of the Christ could have been, if it didn't border on fetishizing crucifixional violence.

Silence, on the other hand, while featuring several scenes of torture, never dwells on violence specifically. Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), rather, must reckon with his own conscience when it comes to renouncing God in the name of ending the suffering of others. In this time of Japanese persecution of Christians, who practically worship Rodrigues himself over the God he professes to bring them closer to, the villagers are tortured, and sometimes killed, unless he apostatizes.

As a "godless" person myself, with a bit of a tortured Christian past, it took me a while to get used to all this talk of "Christian persecution," when such notions are bandied about in our current culture for truly trivial reasons by comparison. The Christians of 17th century Japan weren't getting their panties in a twist over the design of a coffee cup. These people faced actual persecution. But the persecutors, while clearly unjustified in their methods, have a valid point, as they point to Rodrigues's "arrogrant dream of a Christian Japan." Indeed, Christianity remains a tiny minority religion in Japan today.

With an endurance test of a run time -- 161 minutes -- it takes a while to get there, but Silence builds up, not so much to a climax as a rather illuminating conversation between Rodrigues and the priest he and his fellow father Garrpe (Adam Driver) have been sent on a mission to find. This priest is Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson, and he notes that the Japanese culture is so different that the missionairies didn't even realize how much in their teachings actually got lost in translation. And this begs some interesting questions: Rodriguez is both horrified and touched that the Christian villagers willingly sacrifice themselves rather than renounce their faith. But are they dying for the faith, or for Rordrigues himself? Scorsese smartly never feeds this answer to his audience; it's up to us to decide. As for me, I really don't know which it is. Clearly we are meant to understand that pride is part of Rodrigues's problem, even as Andrew Garfield looks more and more like Christ as the movie goes on.

Silence, with its plethora of beautiful vistas as the backdrop for these struggles, is deceptively simple on the surface, layered complexities underneath. It's not the most accessible movie in the world. The opening scene, in which Rodrigues and Garrpe discuss with another priest (Ciarán Hinds) whether or not to go looking for Ferreira, is a bit stilted in delivery. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver speak with unusual accents. I can't say the pace exactly picks up, but neither does it ever drag; for a movie as long as it is, and given the subject matter, Silence is surprisingly consistent with its compelling storytelling.

To me, it shows how destructive religious imperialism can be. To others, it reflects the endurance of the human spirit through faith. Can the Japanese be blamed for resenting any outside attempt to alter their ancient culture? Granted, there's a wide gulf between resentment and persecution. But their demands can be seen by some as laughably simple: much is made of how they demand Christians step onto the image of Christ with their foot. This comes up again and again. But, for the faithful in this place and time, such an act is unconscionable. The idea of doing it just for the sake of easing the suffering of others is what brings Rodrigues to a crisis of faith.

So for me, Silence falls a bit short on its ability to elicit genuine sympathy. I see a reflection of a time and place that operated primarily on ignorance -- as can be said of a large majority of history the world over, really. It's more like anthropology through historical cinema. Somewhat of a curiosity. A rather long curiosity. Others will take it in very different ways. And to be fair, plenty of people on both sides of this particular divide will still just find it tedious. This movie is not exactly an entertainment, at least that much should be known. Those with an appreciation for layered storytelling at least should not find it a waste of time.

Andrew Garfield has his faith tested in SILENCE.

Overall: B
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