It’s hard for films to be about torture without fetishising it. Point, we call films torture porn because, fuck, ain’t humanity appealing enough without jamming those two words together. This becomes harder when you jam faith into the mix because cinematic discourses of violence without bringing morality into the mix. Martin Scorsese jumps into this swamp with Silence and, to his credit, emerges on the other side relatively clean.
In the 1600s two Jesuit priests visit Japan to spread the word of Christ, and, hopefully, locate their missing mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira. A man said to have rejected the faith following the Shogun’s attempts to eradicate the religion from his domain. We are told ominously at the beginning that they will be the last to enter the country with the Church’s permission. You can probably tell that it ain’t gonna turn out too well.
The young priests are played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver. Both approach their roles with this openness, it’s clear from all their previous works that they are very good actors. There’s an unselfconciousness and importantly unselfishness to their performances. As characters they are merely interlocutors in the story of the Japanese characters, the script (Scorsese and Jay Cocks) and Thelma Schoonmaker’s edit favour this, so often we are forced, along with our leads, to witness events that deliberately exclude us.
To wit, let us talk then about the Japanese actors. They’re all great. Normally a director, Shin’ya Tsukamoto shows up here as Mokichi, the leader of a hidden band of Christians, unable to perform Mass, but qualified to baptise. Yôsuke Kubozuka as Kichijiro, a believer unable to commit, constantly seeking forgiveness from the only men he has been tought can provide it. Issei Ogata plays Inoue the man charged with wiping out the religious, to which, okay, he’s as close to unambiguously evil as this film gets, especially considering we never really get his side of the story. As an actor though, he makes this guy as human as he can be. Watch the way he plays with the notion of pride throughout his performance, it cool. The last I’m gonna mention is Tadanobu Asano who gets stuck in an odd role as an interpreter to a whole group of characters who pretty much speak decent English anyway. Means he’s present in a whole bunch of important scenes and he just has the best reactions. In a film about an intangible relationship with God battling against a tangible one with the nation of Japan the character’s presence starts making sense, it’s nice that it’s played well.
There’s a whole bunch of other cool actors in this too but I can’t be going on too long. Love you all guys.
It’s nice to see Scorsese reexamine Catholicism again, and this is a really good take on it. Firstly, despite it being a torture movie, and a Catholic torture movie at that coughMelGibsoncough it chooses to explore the sect’s relationship with pain by explicitly not torturing our lead. It’s a way in that I’m not sure I’ve seen before, it worked for me though and stops the film from venturing into areas that could be pretty gross. Not that the film ain’t got blood on its hands, I mean more like ethically weird.
We also get pretty insightful commentary here on how the traditions of Catholicism relate to how one understands and communicates faith. Taken clear shots at are the veneration of religious artefacts, the refusal to preach in the vernacular and the concept of Holy Men as an extension of God. Like it got all these themes chugging away underneath and I’m like awesome awesome awesome.
It’s a good flick, and that tight Schoonmaker editing keeps it buttery, and Rodrigo Prieto cinematography makes it silky, and that Martin Scorsese editing makes it all feel troubling. What more could you want? Liam Neeson attempting an accent would be nice but I’m fairly convinced he made the right move.