SILENCE – movie review


    Paramount Pictures
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: A-
    Director:  Martin Scorsese
    Written by: Jay Cocks, Martin Scorsese, from Shusaku Endo’s novel
    Cast: Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, Ciarán Hinds, Tadanobu Asano, Ryô Kase, Sin’ya Tsukamoto, Nana Komatsu, Michié
    Screened at: Paramount, NYC, 12/19/16
    Opens: December 23, 2016
    Silence Movie Poster
    If you’re “up” with trends in the U.S. and Western Europe, you may have noticed that a sizable number of people who were born Christians and Jews have converted to Buddhism.  You would not think that a Western nation would be so gung-ho for an Eastern-based philosophy, but check out any large Barnes and Noble store and you’ll see whole sections devoted to the Buddhist way of life, both books and magazines.  Why is this a great irony?  Because if the Japanese waited just four hundred years, they would find that being nice to their Christians would not be a problem, and that torturing them would lead at best to a fake apostasy. Apostasy is a renouncing of your faith preferably in favor of converting to another. Perhaps no other movie demonstrates apostasy better than “Silence.”

    Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” which premiered in Vatican City where a most favorable audience could be expected, enjoys a release here in the U.S. a few weeks later.  Despite the film’s showing that thousands of people converted from Christianity back to Buddhism, the martyrdom of large numbers of Christians who refuse to give up their faith would rivet the attention of the pious.  Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Bridge,” where he played another religious hero) inhabits the role of Sebastião Rodrigues in this epic bit of historical fiction, though “bit” would hardly be the word for a film that runs 162 minutes.  But don’t worry.  The movie, however slow moving in most spots, goes by like a flash (for me, that is), and if you find that parts are too slow, just meditate on this zen koan:  “I am sitting here: I am not going anywhere, so why should I want the film to run on more quickly?”

    One can’t help suspecting that Martin Scorsese, arguably among the great director of our time and the past, is a deeply religious man, even if he has been quoted as saying that he is a lapsed Catholic.  The silence of the movie title is God’s own silence, seeming to ignore the hours and weeks of daily prayer by Rodrigues, and in a lesser role by his compadre Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver, in a somewhat different role from his recent “Paterson”).  In the 1630’s these two Portuguese Jesuit priests, Rodrigues and Garrpe, begged their superior Father Valignano (Ciarán Hinds) to send them from the Iberian peninsula to Japan to find out what happened to a fellow missionary, Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson).  He is thought to be dead, having been killed by the authorities who feared cultural imperialism from Europe—and in fact, the only Europeans the Japanese allowed into their isolated country were traders from the Netherlands who were not about to try to convert the local people to anything but buying goods.

    Before they actually did find Ferreira, they had quite an adventure, but if the dangers they encountered made them sorry they ever gave up Mateus wine for Sake, there is no indication of regrets.  Evoked by Rodrigo Prieto’s gorgeous cinematography on the island of Taiwan, given the character of a 17th Century Japanese village, the two Jesuits bear witness to tortures that might fit into a movie by Quentin Tarantino or by Pier Palo Pasolini’s Salò or even Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” Ordinary citizens of the Christian faith are brought to the Inquisitor, Inoue (Issey Ogata) and made to step on a metal engraving of Jesus.  Only the most pious of believers would refuse to do so, since all they had to do is place a foot lightly on the etching and then go on their merry ways thinking whatever they really wanted to think.  But in some earlier scenes, everyone refused.  For the troubles of the refuseniks, they are either tied to a cross and left to die after the executioner gives each a sip of sake (like vinegar for Christ?) but not before they have boiling water poured over them as though by a shower, dripping merrily down to make the pain more excruciating.  The bodies are wrapped in straw, sometimes while they are still alive, and burned, though for variety some are tied in straw and first drowned.

    Apostasy is all the Inquisitor really demands.  Since he knows that the Padre, the head priest Rodrigues, would not give in, the priest is forced to witness a preparation for slow death of others and told that these people have giving up of their Christian faith, they would be tortured and killed if Rodrigues refuse to apostatize.  If Rodrigues, with his “courtroom” prosecution translated by a “good cop” (Tadanobu Asano) who says, “Hey, step on the metal, it’s only a formality) has any hope of giving up his Christian faith, it is through the influence of Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who finally turns up to convince him to do so.

    It’s difficult to believe that such a long, slow-moving story would go by so quickly, but remember that Scorsese is behind it a perfectionist who he must have studied every scene to judge its viability.  Not only is the film Oscar-worthy but stands out for a few performances.  I would consider Tadanobu Asano as the good cop for awards consideration and perhaps also Issey Ogata as the Inquisitor, but also Yaosuke Kubozuka as Kichijiro who gave up his Christianity and then gained some silver for turning Rodrigues in.  The film is an adaptation of the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo, available at for $9.52.

    A few concepts are implied.  One is the idea that Jews have not been the only people to be persecuted for their religion off and on for two thousand years.  Any minority group that is considered “the other,” risks torment by people who cannot tolerate differences.  Remember that ISIS captures Yazidi women not only for their different religion but also because they are not, like Muslims, a people of the Book.  And the Romans were not the last to bother Christians in the arena.  Christians are persecuted today in some North African states, by ISIS, by Al Queda, and of course in the 17th Century by those who are the subjects of this film. If the action in this film reminds you of the ideology of terrorists, who destroy items of antiquity from non-Islamic religions as they did in Syria, you’re up with your current events.  All this makes “Silence” not only a film to be seen for intrinsic qualities and careful attention to detail but for its timeliness not only for our own century but throughout history.

    Unrated.  162 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

    Do you agree with this review?  Please feel free to reply.

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