by Hope Madden
Yes, the faithful believe Jesus sacrificed himself for us – to clear our sins with God. But would he have sacrificed us for the sake of reverence?
Martin Scorsese’s elegant pondering on faith, Silence, enters the mind of Jesuit priest Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) as he and his colleague Fr. Garrpe (Adam Driver) venture into 1640s Japan in search of a mentor priest lost to a violently anti-Catholic government.
Gorgeous, imposing shots paint the image of the vast and dangerous beauty of God’s world and the small if admirable people trying to survive there. Garrpe and Rodrigues first hide with faithful Japanese villagers, losing their primary mission while serving those oppressed Christian Japanese longing for signs of the church.
Garfield and Driver cut nicely opposing images, Garfield the sweet-faced picture of buoyant faith, Driver the more skeptical, impatient believer. While it’s Garfield whose story we hear, Driver’s counterpoint is a required piece of this crisis of faith driving the film and his performance delivers something painful and honest.
Scorsese’s abiding interest – some might say preoccupation – with faulty men and their tenuous grasp on Catholic faith has flavored many a film, though rarely as thoroughly as this one. What is faith? What is it, really? And who’s to say what harm Jesus would have you do to protect him?
The film may take itself too seriously (though, this is hardly light fare). Any possible misstep Scorsese can mostly overcome with meticulous, near-magical craftsmanship, though there are a handful of hang ups that sometimes break the seduction of the project.
These are Portuguese priests in 17th Century Japan speaking English (why?), and mainly with British/Irish accents (Liam Neeson plays lost Fr. Ferreira). (At least Driver gives the Portuguese accent a shot.)
And though Garfield is a genuine talent, this role requires something perhaps uglier than what he has to offer.
Mainly, though the film’s resolution is both nuanced and satisfying, there are certain answers, certain signs that feel more like movie magic than spiritual presence. They are minor flaws in a beautiful if ponderous work, but they keep Silence from joining Scorsese’s true masterpieces.