It is often in the silence that we are able to hear. Above the noise of the world, silence brings peace, solace, and sometimes madness. But it’s also in the silence that doubt grows. Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” is reserved, muted, and battles through the ever-growing struggles of remaining faithful to a god who has seemingly abandoned his priests in a foreign land. Really, though, the film is arduously long, inescapably pretentious, and bloated with the arrogance of colonialism and a holier-than-thou righteousness that bleeds its way into every crevice of the film. “Silence,” which runs for a tedious two hours and forty minutes, is difficult to sit through, boring, and explores the crisis of faith only to stubbornly uphold its characters’ continued ignorance of the place and people they seek to change.
The film, an adaptation of Shūsako Endō’s 1966 novel, takes place in seventeenth century Japan. Two Portuguese Jesuit priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver), make their way to Japan after their mentor, Ferreira (Liam Neeson), disappears without a word. While there, they aim to find Ferreira and to also spread the word of Jesus and Catholicism. Throughout their journey they encounter Japanese Christians who cling to the priests, some seeking confession (Yôsuke Kubozuka), others seeking guidance and leadership, believing it can only be found with the missionaries. At the time, Christianity was outlawed in Japan and Rodrigues is left to endure torture at the hands of his captors who promise to let their Christian prisoners go if he agrees to repudiate his faith.
“All he could do was teach, but he never learned,” says a villager of Ferreira’s years of service. This line, by far the most striking in the film, lays out the truth in one sentence. How can one teach if one does not know? Without knowing the background of the country to which they’ve gone, the priests are left preaching without understanding, spreading their faith without thought to their environment. For all its intents and purposes to explore Rodrigues’ crisis of faith, “Silence” reeks of a white savior mentality that’s really hard to overlook.
It doesn’t help that the main character–whom Scorsese asks the audience to sympathize with, to understand, to acknowledge–is played by Garfield, an Englishman, while the other more prominent characters, Driver and Neeson, are also white (and, unsurprisingly, none are actually Portuguese). Scorsese dedicates the film to the Japanese Christians in the credits and yet the Japanese actors in the film are either dispensable for the sake of Rodrigues’ mental torture or they’re in a position of power, like the Inquisitor (Issei Ogata), and constantly made to look like the one-dimensional bad guys who poke and prod their way into Rodrigues’ psyche, but are only really there to make Garfield out to be some sacrificial hero.
There’s nothing remotely contemplative about the film. Garfield’s struggles and breakdowns aren’t worth anything in the end and frankly, the way the film is executed, I could have cared less about his journey. More fascinating would have been the exploration of actual Japanese Christians. How did they fare in their homeland when they were being persecuted for their faith? What were their lives like? What are their stories? Scorsese isn’t remotely interested in them, that’s for sure. Garfield’s character draws parallels to Jesus and reaches heights of sainthood, but it’s all hollow and overly devout to a point of frustration. Characters are tortured, hung upside down, drowned, and killed by decapitation all while Garfield wonders if the silence is God’s answer. Ultimately, “Silence” doesn’t want to explore anything worthwhile or compelling. It only seeks to uphold that which it already believes and it translates into an overbearing, empty shell of a film that is more concerned with the righteousness of the white man than of anything else.
Ultimately, "Silence" doesn't want to explore anything worthwhile or compelling. It only seeks to uphold that which it already believes and it translates into an overbearing, empty shell of a film that is more concerned with the righteousness of the white man than of anything else.