One of reasons we tell stories to each other is to, in some way, deal with tough questions. The world can be an uncertain place, and we are constantly confronted with challenges of some nature. Even our basest comedies have at their base some real question to deal with; in their case, the issue is abstracted to the ridiculous in order to be more manageable. Other stories take their questions more head-on.
One notable exception is, perhaps curiously, religious stories, especially films. These are often bereft of any real conflict, and therefore storytelling effectiveness, because conflict looks very much like faithlessness to some extent. And if one is producing a film for a religious audience, the introduction of doubt may not pay off in ticket sales. People come to have reaffirmed what they came in with, and affirmation often comes at the cost of insight.
Silence, by Martin Scorsese, is absolutely a religious, or at least a spiritual, film. But it is not like its compatriots of the Christian cinema ilk. It sets out, very intentionally, to ask some very difficult questions, and to challenge unexamined faith. The resulting meditation on religion and spirituality is a beautiful and reverent experience I would rank among the best of the director's work.
The film tells the story of Rodrigues and Garupe, two 17th-century Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to find their mentor Ferreira, who has forsaken the faith. The two encounter almost constant persecution and have to come to terms with what the faith means for them and their followers.
One of the most striking qualities of the film is how measured it is in its observances. In its subdued way, it really only chronicles events without influencing or editorializing them through extra-diagetic elements. Although it is the Jesuits' story, the film doesn't really take sides. And this is where it succeeds where other films about spirituality often fail. By maintaining a certain level of compassionate objectivity instead of proselyting, it is able to consider its subject more truthfully, resulting in a more satisfying and effective storytelling experience.
I don't want to talk too much about the film because I think that it just needs to be experienced on its own terms. But I say that it is absolutely a rewarding watch, regardless of your personal level of spirituality or religiousness. Its soul-searching is universal and its craft exquisite. And while asking difficult questions, it also offers considered and considerate answers.
Silence features Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano, Issei Ogata, and Liam Neeson, and is rated R for violence.
Written by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese
Directed by Martin Scorsese
by Chase Harrison