Silence (2017) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Runtime: 161 minutes

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Issei Ogata, Yoshi Oida, Yôsuke Kubozuka, Tadanobu Asano, et al…

Plot (taken from IMDb): In the 17th century, two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel to Japan in an attempt to locate their mentor, who is rumored to have committed apostasy, and to propagate Catholicism.

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Martin Scorsese’s love letter to the Akira Kurosawa films that inspired him into filmmaking is a long and dark tale of the purges of Christianity in 17th century Japan. Silence is a beautiful depiction of a horrible time in Japan’s long and vibrant history. Scorsese’s Japan is one of the unknown, a Japan that’s unwilling to put up with outsiders.

Silence is a very long film, sitting at almost three hours, and for some, there will not be enough excitement to warrant such a lengthy session, but for me, the film was reminiscent of the work of Kurosawa and Kubrick (not to mention Scorsese’s own film history). There are plenty of lingering shots, with scenes set up perfectly to evoke feelings of power, betrayal and beauty. Silence, more than anything, is a film about death. Death is powerful, and none more so than here. While some might flinch over the lingering images of people hanging on to life upon a cross placed in the sea for example, I found that these images stuck with me. Silence serves as a reminder of the human condition and faith. People will literally hang off of a cross for days upon end, defending what they believe in.

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There is something of a powerful beauty in death, despite its meanings. Scorsese makes sure we understand this. These people may be dying, but their faith may never be swayed. This is as powerful to us as it is Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver’s Jesuit priests, Father Rodrigues and Garupe respectively. The two Catholic priests travel to Japan in order to locate, and perhaps bring home their teacher Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). They travel despite being in the knowledge that terrible fates have met many Catholics in Japan, with awful torture devices employed by the Japanese hierarchy to turn people away from the Christian faith and way of life.

Rodrigues and Garupe find Japan to be more testing than they could have believed. The two are forced into hiding by the villagers they meet upon arrival, scared that the guards will find and kill them all. Even in these harsh circumstances, the Japanese people are desperate to hear of the Bible, and its teachings. It’s emotional stuff. These are people in constant hiding, living under the threat of the law over their religion and faith, yet despite their fears, they still want to attend church services and practice their faith. Silence is emotional throughout, spearheaded by Garfield’s finest performance to date.

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Rodrigues is shown horrible things, put through dangerous situations and constantly finds his faith tested. Yet, despite all his hardships (including one particularly harrowing scene), he finds his faith intact. Garfield’s performance carries all of these emotions perfectly. He looks like a man in turmoil throughout, but carries an air of dignity, one befitting of a man of the church resilient in his beliefs. Indeed, the performances from all involved were verging on stellar. Scorsese knows how to direct actors better than almost every other director still working. It’s sad that he Garfield didn’t get the respect he deserved for his work on Silence, and it’s sad, too, that Scorsese didn’t, either. Silence didn’t get the recognition it deserved.

Silence is fantastically directed and shot throughout, and despite its length, it never felt too long for me. I can see however, how some people would have found the film boring. Those looking for a popcorn fuelled blockbuster must look elsewhere, and even those looking for something revolutionary like Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street will have to look elsewhere. Silence is a slow, lingering film, that plays on your emotions. You may stare in wonder at the glorious sights of Japan depicted in the film, but you’ll grimace at the sheer violence of it all. This is a harrowing, yet beautiful film, in a similar fashion to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai or even Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. While it doesn’t quite live up to the standards of those two films, people looking for an affecting, beautifully made drama carried by an impeccable lead, Silence comes strongly recommended.


Silence is as harrowing as it is beautiful. Essential cinema.


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