Screened Out – Martin Scorsese’s Silence

[three-star-rating]Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson[/three-star-rating]

One can feel the devotion and love in Martin Scorsese’s historic fiction about Christian faith and doubt in feudal, 17th-century Japan.

However, like most people’s obsessions, if Silence were told with more enthusiasm and much more attention to its audience, it would be more successful. This is over 160 beautiful, careful, delicate, faithful, boring, slog-like minutes.

Liam Neeson shows the ravages of challenged faith in Silence.
Liam Neeson shows the ravages of challenged faith in Silence.

Based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel, Silence follows two young Jesuit priests (Garfield, Driver) as they search for their lost mentor (Neeson) and attempt to spread Catholicism throughout Japan. At first, the young Jesuits are blindly devout, indoctrinated. Japan shows them beauty and challenges they never expected.

Furthermore, Silence offers new stories that link to older religious text. There are the martyrs, the Jobs, the Judases – all making their appearances.

I hope this sounds like I found a lot to admire, I did! I just would never want to sit through Silence twice. And I assume most people be turned off by the ponderous, lugubrious storytelling – like a sermon that overshoots its time slot by about an hour, while our butts are dying on the hard wooden pews.

This is the problem with brilliant minds like Scorsese’s. It feels as if he’s given carte blanche. For good reasons – and some bad – no one has the guts or stripes to come up to the legendary artist and say, “Marty, this is gorgeous! However, it desperately needs more energy. Also, you could have fewer shots of the misty Japanese mud. And finally, Marty, we don’t need to linger so lovingly and for so long on the priests’ pondering faces.”

Less is more, Marty.

And while we’re here, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto does a fantastic job – really, Oscar worthy. This is probably because Scorsese gave him so much opportunity to show his craft. However, this is to the detriment of driven narrative.

Martin Scorsese fought for three decade's to bring NAME's book to screen.
Martin Scorsese fought for three decade’s to bring Shusaku Endo’s book to screen.

Scorsese is able to tell a succinct tale, of course. Mean Streets, The Departed, and a host of other films stand as witness (even as they’re all well over two hours long). In fact, given their brisk and violent nature, we might question Scorsese’s reason to tell the more introspective, religious story of Silence. Scorsese, though, is a devout Catholic who filmed the other two beautiful religious slogs – The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun.

However, I will say this; Silence’s performances are magnificent. Andrew Garfield, shining with fiery devotion, plays Father Sebastião Rodrigues as a man who found faith young and plans to hold it with his youthful energy. Adam Driver as Father Francisco Garupe starves himself. By the end of the film, they appear as two versions of Christ – the young man who turned the tables over in the temple, and the gaunt martyr who suffered and died for the sins of the world.


Through these actors – and some great supporting performances – Scorsese shows us what he was aiming for. He wants to make faith films that encompass doubt and complexity, and that challenge and force people to think. That’s what a good sermon should do.

However, here, Scorsese got up behind the pulpit and refused to let go.

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