SILENCE (Martin Scorsese) 161 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (January 6). See listing. Rating: NNNNN
Martin Scorsese has been trying to make Silence for the last three decades. I think its a far more complex and challenging film for all the waiting the work of an older, wiser man, someone whos outgrown his need to prove himself and is simply telling a story he wants to tell.
And its a hell of a story. Based on a novel by Shusaku Endo (previously filmed by Masahiro Shinoda in 1971), it stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as Rodrigues and Garrpe, Portuguese Jesuits circa 1640 who travel to Japan in search of the vanished Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson).
Ferreira is said to have renounced his faith before his disappearance, an act of apostasy his former colleagues refuse to believe. The man they knew would never have done this, and so Rodrigues and Garrpe with the help of a Japanese boatman (Yosuke Kubozuka) make their way to his last known location, where the few surviving Christians have been driven into hiding.
Thats merely the first movement of this deliberate, challenging film, which like The Last Temptation Of Christ and Kundun is a study of faith from the inside out. But unlike those earlier pictures, Silence is the work of a filmmaker whos far less certain about things than he used to be. Scorseses old enough to have become accustomed to loss, and perhaps the lifelong Catholic has begun to wonder about what lies on the other side.
Garfield is revelatory as a naive, prideful priest willing to sacrifice anything to stand on principle, but Issei Ogata (Yi Yi, Tony Takitani) is just as compelling as an imperial inquisitor with unlimited patience and terrifying resolve. Driver and Neeson have less to do, but they inhabit their characters fully.
Running over two and a half hours, Silence is a slow film, but not a dull one. Proceeding with majesty and an eerie calm, Scorsese and co-writer Jay Cocks craft scenes that position us alongside Rodrigues in moments of despair or terror we are trapped with him, waiting to see how his faith will (or wont) endure this latest challenge.
Like most of Scorseses oeuvre, Silence explores the link between physical suffering and spiritual conviction, but this time he seems willing to consider a darker question: not What if its all for nothing? but How will we know?