SILENCE – The Agony And The Ecstasy


Directed by Martin Scorsese
Staring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson


A passion project for one of the world’s most renowned directors is always going to garner interest, especially when that project has been in the works for decades. Based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, Scorsese’s latest film tells a tale of endurance and spirituality, as two priests head to Japan to find out the fate of a colleague.

The year is 1639, and two priests in search of their mentor (Liam Neeson), arrive in Japan. There they find a Christian community in hiding, pursued by a fierce official policy of persecution. Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver) find themselves proscribed in a strange land, hunted, and feared by the authorities. However they are also people of strong faith, willing to suffer and die for their beliefs. Together they must decide if they are worthy of the task set before them.

At first glance Silence promises to be the filmic version of a Caravagio painting. An exquisite canvas of light and shadow, breathtakingly beautiful to look at, filled with religious ecstasy and gruesome bloody martyrdom. The sort of film that would have the ardent fans of The Passion Of The Christ reaching for their wallets. Yet what transpires in the second half is something far more complex, and a far more personal voyage of faith. It is closer to Gethsemane than Calvary, and as such doesn’t provide any easy answers, instead drawing the audience through an agonising process. Yet what else would we expect from the director that controversially had Christ imagine an alternative life for himself, during the crucifixion? When it comes to questions of faith, Scorsese certainly marks himself as a man to ask hard questions, and not to accept stock answers.

That in part may damage Silence. It’s a difficult film to categorise, and in truth not the easiest to review, or recommend. Beyond the draw of the director’s name and the star power it has, it is certainly not a commercial film. Its extreme length, slow pacing, esoteric subject matter, and detailed meditation on religion, hardly make it box office gold. In fact long parts of it are drawn out representations of torture (both mental and physical), that are excruciating, breaking the audience down as effectively as the protagonists. All frustratingly without some grand catharsis, but rather revelations by subtlety and interpretation. Silence is certainly not easy fare to watch.

Yet it is also stunningly beautiful. Each shot is immaculate in composition. The first part is utterly comparable with Baroque art, with that emphasised contrast between light and shadow. As the film progresses, as the journey progresses, this shifts to a wash of colour and light. Equally breathtaking in execution, and demonstrative of what a cinematic powerhouse Scorsese is.

He’s backed up by some fine performances. Garfield really does seem to be the go to actor when a performance requires utter earnestness, with spiritual devotion and slight messianic undertones. You would think that would be a limited subset of roles, but between Silence and Hacksaw Ridge, he certainly has it covered. Driver is also phenomenal in support, creating in a few lines, a character that is complex and conflicted.

A must for dedicated cinephilles. It may not be an easy watch, but it is one that will haunt you with its images and philosophy.