500 Days Of Film Reviews Silence, Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Yosuke Kubozuka and Issey Ogata
Two 17th century Portuguese missionaries, Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), embark on a perilous journey to Japan in search of their missing mentor, Father Christovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson). They want to disprove the rumours that he has apostacised - openly renounced his faith.
Rodrigues and Garupe also wish to minister to Japan's hidden Christians - a highly dangerous ambition at a time when feudal lords and ruling Samurai are determined to eradicate Christianity by means of persecution and torture.
Is It Any Good?
Silence is a gripping, disturbing and thought-provoking movie about faith. From its opening moments, Martin Scorsese’s film challenges us to consider some profound religious and philosophical questions.
However, despite its weighty themes and meditative tone, Silence is no dry, religious study. There is also a powerful and compelling story - brilliantly portrayed by an impressive cast including Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Yosuke Kubozuka and Issey Ogata.
Meanwhile, thanks to the superb work from cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto, Silence is visually stunning throughout. In the first half of the movie, we see glorious landscapes, striking aerial shots and sense danger and mystery as figures emerge from mist and shadows. However, as the film progresses, we are moved into dark and often unbearably claustrophobic spaces.
Silence tells an epic story of a faith that is tested to the limits of both physical and mental endurance. The methods of torture at that time were truly horrific. As a result, some scenes in the film are tough to watch. However, they are also crucial in our understanding of the conflict facing Rodrigues and Garupe.
Scorsese’s reverence for his source material is clear. In 1988, he was given a copy of Shusaku Endo’s esteemed historical novel, Silence. Having been raised in a strong Catholic family, the book made a huge impression on him. “I continually think about - wonder about - faith and doubt, weakness, and the human condition, and these are the very themes that Endo’s book touches upon in a such a direct way,” he says.
The director was determined to make a movie of Endo’s book. Adapting a novel with such profound religious and philosophical themes would not prove easy. Scorsese worked, along with writing collaborator Jay Cocks, for over 15 years until both were happy with the film’s screenplay.
“This is a lot of history, a lot of historical forces interacting in an extremely complex manner,” Scorsese explains. “I thought about giving the audience a historical context with a card at the beginning or narration or expository dialogue, and then I decided to go another way.
“Why? Because I wanted the world of mid-17th century Japan to feel as mysterious to the audience as it did to Rodrigues and Garupe. And, on another level, because the conflicts that occur in the picture - the persecution of religious minorities, the testing of faith - are timeless.”
Once funding was secured (a challenge in itself), Scorsese had to find the right actors for the roles of Rodrigues and Garupe. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver were inspired choices - both convey the emotional weight of the film, while also portraying their priests as human and relatable.
“You think of priests as calm and rational,” says Driver. “But these Jesuits were pioneers, rough and hard. They had to be durable. Conditions were harsh in that period. These men were rough, not polished, not how we think of priests today. I think of them as explorers.”
Despite a lengthy running time, Silence never outstays its welcome. How could it when every frame is so striking and every moment is filled with such powerful, thought-provoking meaning?
Shusaku Endo’s novel was published in 1966 and received Japan’s prestigious Tanazaki Prize. It has sold over 800,000 copies in Japan. Graham Green called Endo “one of the finest writers alive”.
Endo’s book was based on real people - Father Ferreira was a famous figure. “When researching a project like this one, I look first for visual materials in museums and libraries, in this case materials that depict images of 17th century Japan,” explains archivist and researcher, Marianne Bower. “Something valuable I came up was a series of screens depicting the arrival of the Portuguese in Japan.
“I also collected images, engravings and books that describe the history of the
period in detail and I read up on the so-called Hidden Christian communities that existed in Japan at the time. What I found especially remarkable was the amount of imagery available of the torture that was inflicted on the Christians by the Samurai. It’s breathtaking.”
It was prohibitively expensive for Scorsese to shoot Silence in Japan. As a result, the film was made in Taiwan. “We looked at many different spots around the world,” Scorsese explains. “We finally settled on Taiwan because the landscape was geographically close, the climate was similar, and the landscapes in the mountains and by the sea gave us just what we needed.”
Have you seen Silence? If so, what did you think about Martin Scorsese's film? Let me know by leaving a comment in the section below!