Silence (2016)

Brief Synopsis: Two priests travel to Japan in an attempt to locate their mentor and propagate Catholicism.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0490215/ 

Who chose it: Both of us.

Why we chose it: 

Leah: I was intrigued by the premise- we don’t get many “missionary” films these days, and the fact that Martin Scorsese was behind it added to my curiosity. I’m also a fan of the lead actors.

Brent: Because it’s a Scorsese film… and really that’s the only reason you need.

Brent’s Review:

Welcome to Martin Scorsese’s 17th century Shogunite Japan. Here you will find ample supplies of rain, mist, and suffering. I suspect you will not enjoy your stay.

“Silence” is a difficult film to unpack. I’ve struggled for days to find the words to share about it, but I’m confident those words will never come to me. “Silence” raises many more questions than it answers and despite the high quality of the acting, direction, set pieces, editing, and writing on display, it’s difficult to call this a “good” movie. If nothing else, “Silence” is a film to experience and to wrestle with.

The plot is straightforward: two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) go to Japan, where Christianity is outlawed, in order to find their mentor (Liam Neeson). Neeson’s “Father Ferreira” is rumored to have apostatized, married, and assumed a life as a Japanese man. Determined this is slander, Garfield and Driver demand to be sent after him. Predictably, things go awry. Their presence in Japan not only puts themselves in harm’s way, but also (and especially) endangers those who harbor them.

The negative responses to this film center on two complaints: the film is repetitive and boring. This centers on an undeniable fact of the film, which is that it presents the same situation over and over again with different characters. Each time characters are asked to prove they are not Christians — whether by trampling an image of Christ, spitting on a crucifix, or otherwise. Some pass, many fail, and all are scarred. We watch on. The chief antagonist quips, “The price of [the priest’s] glory shall be [the villager’s] suffering.”

And so the film goes, uncompromising in its depiction of the struggle between faithfulness and mercy to oneself and others. The film offers no easy answers — even when Garfield’s “Father Rodrigues” hears the voice of God spoken through a tablet bearing Christ’s image. I suspect the moral of this story is that faith, mercy, and love are not black and white matters. Sometimes loving others requires denouncing Christ; or sometimes loving Christ requires denouncing oneself? Can we be sure God is listening, or are we just praying to silence?

As I’ve said, the film does not offer answers to these questions and that isn’t the point. The film opens itself up, letting us enter a world that allows us only to experience its heartache, engage its depiction of a life of faith, and wrestle with the questions it presents. In the meantime, we are forced to live with the consequences of a life of faith.

My only criticism is that I’m not sure who the audience is for this film. “Silence” requires knowledge of the Catholic faith, some understanding of mission work, and an openness to be challenged repeatedly without satisfying an answer. I consider myself among this small audience, but I wonder how many others there may be.

When the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I missed the point entirely — maybe that’s how Father Rodrigues felt, too.

Leah’s Review:

We saw Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” five days ago, and I still don’t know how I feel about it. To say it’s a heavy movie is an understatement. I expected this from Scorsese- who is known for his extremely violent and intense films. This combined with the plot of the struggles of 17th century Jesuit priests living in Japan was something altogether unique and unexpected.

‘Silence” is very well-acted and I was especially impressed with Andrew Garfield’s performance as Father Rodrigues. I have always enjoyed his acting, but I am not used to seeing him in such a serious role (although I understand his role in the recent “Hacksaw Ridge” is very similar). He makes you feel the pain and the struggle as well as the hope and inspiration that his character experiences. It’s particularly fascinating after having watched his interviews on the film as Garfield describes how he underwent the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola to prepare for the film. It definitely had an impact on his religious outlook (very interesting perspective to hear from a Hollywood actor) which really makes his performance even more authentic. If you’d like to read the full interview, follow this link: http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/grace-enough

The story of “Silence” focuses a lot on symbolism and its importance to faith. In the movie, Father Rodrigues says something to the effect that the people they are ministering to almost hold the physical objects of their faith (crucifix, rosary, etc.) as being more important than their faith itself. We see this throughout the movie, particularly when the Japanese Christians are being persecuted by the inquisitor. In order to prove they are not Christian, they are told to step on pictures of Jesus or spit on a crucifix. Even though Rodrigues persuades them to do this for their own safety, we see later that having to perform this act feels like a betrayal to God on the part of the Jesuit priest. Are these really just symbols of faith or are they something more? It’s hard to say.

The most interesting thing to me about “Silence” was the premise of it being a missionary story. We don’t get a lot of those nowadays and the ones we do get are hokey and forced feel-good garbage films. Scorsese is able to tell this story in a way that is honest and gritty. It doesn’t tiptoe around the torture and persecution of 17th century Japanese Christians, but it also doesn’t tell you what to believe. There’s no hidden agenda. It’s not a clean-cut Christian movie and that’s something I really appreciate about it. Christianity (or faith of any kind) is not simple. The answers are rarely obvious and doubt is a recurring part of the journey. “Silence” does not provide an answer of how to live your life- but it shows the realities of a life of faith: constantly questioning. It’s a hard watch- but it’s such a well-made film that I can’t help but recommend it.

Next up: We’re going back to good ol’ 1992 with “Glengarry Glen Ross”. With an all-star cast that includes Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, and Alec Baldwin- what could go wrong?

Peace out, kids.

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2 thoughts on “Silence (2016)

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