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Faith is torture in Scorsese's Silence

Tim Kroenert |  21 February 2017


Silence (MA). Director: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Yosuke Kubozuka. 161 minutes

If you haven't seen the Jesuit Brendan Busse's interview with actor Andrew Garfield for America magazine, it is worth the read. In preparation for his role in Martin Scorsese's Silence, in which he plays a Jesuit priest, Garfield underwent the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, one of the foundational experiences of Jesuit spirituality.

He reflects frankly and movingly on coming to the Exercises from 'the marketplace of riches, honour and pride' that is Hollywood, wanting to confront a persistent sense of his own 'not-enough-ness'. What he experienced instead was 'falling in love with this person ... Jesus Christ'.

This is not your typical Hollywood story, but then Silence is not your typical Hollywood film. The rigours of religious faith — especially where they butt up against the limitations of ordinary humanity — have been a core theme of Scorsese's oeuvre. But rarely has this conflict been portrayed with such passion, beauty and rawness as in Silence.

Based upon a 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo, it is the story of two 17th century Portuguese Jesuits (Garfield and Adam Driver) who travel to Japan to locate their former mentor, Fr Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who is said to have renounced his faith, and to spread Catholicism.

Andrew Garfield and Yosuke Kubozuka in SilenceThere, the priests find the local Christian populations have been driven underground, under threat of torture and execution if they are discovered and refuse to apostasise. The lesson they come to learn against this fraught backdrop is that the living out of religious faith and the strengths and limitations of ordinary humanity cannot be considered in isolation from each other.

Garfield's Fr Rodrigues learns this as he witnesses numerous innocent people tortured and murdered in the name of the faith he has come to promote; through his conversations with various inquisitors who argue, not unpersuasively, that Catholicism is incompatible with Japanese culture; and in the face of a Japanese fisherman (Yosuke Kubozuka) who repeatedly apostasises while so many of his fellows refuse, and just as often returns to plead for forgiveness.

Finally he witnesses it in Fr Ferreira, whose apostasy is far beyond what he feared, and the deeper significance of which he, in his earnestness, is slow to comprehend.

As a production Silence is hard to fault, a resolutely old-school religious epic, with Rodrigo Prieto's expansive cinematography being of particular note. But at its heart is a deeply layered performance from Garfield, whose grappling with the Spiritual Exercises inform every moment of his character's confrontation and contemplation of complex evils, in his own heart and others'.


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is editor of Eureka Street.

This review was first published by The Melbourne Anglican.



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Submitted comments

Martin Scorsese's very impressive film-making cv makes known a towering talent combined with a profound value of the sacred, in his personal way. His actors, chosen carefully, respond to this high standard. This film is a must-see and I'm hoping to share it with someone I love.

Pam 23 February 2017

This film touched me deeply. It is scripted , filmed, acted and edited beautifully. It raised many questions yet encouraged an individual personal response to spirituality and sense of mission. One thing extra was the appropriate soundtrack,including the sounds of nature which gently , almost silently infiltrated the film. Scorsese at his absolute best. Film -makers ,the prophets of our times.

Celia 23 February 2017

A great review, thanks – I am looking forward to seeing this. The Mission (directed by Roland Joffé, written by Robert Bolt, featuring De Niro, Irons, Neeson and Ray McAnally) remains one of my favourite films of all time, and a star attraction when it comes to exploring spirituality. How would you place Scorsese’s Silence, in this context – is it walking similar paths ?

Barry G 23 February 2017

Tim, Until the church and the Vatican start to deal with the Child abuse lies, nothing else competes

Brian Kennedy 23 February 2017

I agree with Tim's review on the whole - but I found some scenes, e.g. the interrogations of Rodrigues by the Inquisitor, unnecessarily drawn out, and frankly boring. As a former editor, I feel I could have got half an hour out of this film without great loss. Andrew Garfield is indeed impressive, as are the Japanese actors - but did they have to be so unwashed? I thought Liam Neeson would never appear. Adam Driver was also excellent - he has the cheekbones for a start.

Rodney Wetherell 23 February 2017

Barry: Christs' words" Love as I have loved you," come to mind when I think of both the Mission and Silence. Read the book, it's even more beautiful. Brain: YES- Paramount!

AO 23 February 2017

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