“Silence” Review: God’s Not Dead 1 1/2

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Nearly 30 years after the release of The Last Temptation of Christ and Martin Scorsese is still struggling with his relationship to religion.

Of course, Silence is much more likely to sit well with the religious sect than a movie featuring Jesus fantasizing about an extra-marital relationship. In fact, the film’s premiere was actually at the Vatican. While the core thematic struggle is faith vs. humanity, there is definitely still a strong religious message. Silence is a much more enjoyable and well-constructed film than many other religious movies, but at the end of the film’s nearly 3-hour run-time, it leaves something to be desired.

The story follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield & Adam Driver) who insist on a mission to Japan to find their mentor, Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who had apparently abandoned the religion. They are met with a hostile Buddhist government and forced into hiding with small groups of Japanese Christians to avoid being tortured, or worst, forced to reject God.

At surface value, apostate priests and hidden Christianity in Japan seems like an interesting artifact. Things get a little more problematic when you examine the perspective. The film is based on a 1966 Japanese novel, which is significant because of the change in perception. The shift from Eastern to Western perspective changes the story from being one of self-reflection & discovery to a savior narrative coupled with hypocritical Christian self-pity. The movie asks its audience to feel bad for two colonizers who colonization strategy doesn’t go as planned while their home country is simultaneously purging any form of religious other.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t feel pity for any Christian characters subjected to the increasingly sophisticated torture techniques of the Buddhists, but I was left with a bit of cognitive dissonance as characters who belong to a dominant culture claimed a victim mentality when assimilation didn’t go as planned. I don’t know if this is because I’ not particularly religious or because I missed some sort of subtext (both potential reasons), but I felt the main characters were often a bit unlikeable. 

It’s a shame I felt that way too because I typically enjoy both of the main actors. Andrew Garfield (speaking in a funny voice; isn’t he Jewish?) and Adam Driver (speaking in a somehow more ridiculous voice) both display an extraordinary amount of passion (heh) and intensity, but I was left a little underwhelmed by their character arcs. Some of the best performances of the film are given by the Japanese actors but generally aren’t given enough time or development to really do anything significant.

Still, the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, and I was never left feeling bored, despite the lengthy run-time. There are a couple of noticable audio difficulties (and a lot of unnecessary Voice-overs), but overall the film is technically sound. It’s an alright watch, but for a 3-hour Scorsese film, 25-years in the making and released during award season, it’s a little disappointing. I guess you could say it’s not worth making too much noise about…

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