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Silence: Movie Review

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Silence is one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. It’s cruel, brutal and intense, but this film’s dreadful beauty is undeniable. Martin Scorsese’s passion project was twenty-five years in the making. Maybe that’s a good thing. His deft hand helming a film this heavy pays off. Rather than using violence like a club, Scorsese wields grim imagery like a katana – no less lethal, but with a confusing sense of refinement. As challenging as it can be, Silence tells a stunning and fulfilling story. Watching this movie is like listening to a song that sounds amazing despite being played with only sour notes.

Set in 17th century Japan, Silence depicts the efforts of a pair of Portuguese priests, Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) as they venture into Japan to ascertain the fate of another priest, Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), with whom they have lost contact and is rumored to have renounced god. Christians in Japan were persecuted during this time and practiced their faith in secret. Based on a historical-fiction novel by Shusaku Endo, this movie follows its characters as they delve deeper and deeper into a world that grows increasingly cruel and hostile to them while simultaneously urging them to share their faith with secret Christians.

Despite all its cruelty, this is a visually stunning film. Standing against the wonders of Japan’s natural beauty, rather than glamorizing this film’s violence, the environment sets up stark contrast between earthly serenity and the depths of human brutality. This contrast is a necessary relief to frequent and merciless human mistreatment. The cinematography in this movie is incredible. Almost every scene looks like what would be the most impressive shot in a lesser film. More than aesthetic for its own sake, the impressive natural backdrop in Silence contrasts the earth’s majesty with depraved and hateful human behavior.

Garfield’s performance was wrenching and evocative, opening a window into the turmoil Rodrigues (Garfield) endures as his faith is tested through clever and despicable means. Approaching the role with earnest and humble charm, Garfield elicits empathy that forces audiences to share in his character’s torment. Driver, whose gaunt physique in this film is startling, gives a haunting performance which, paired with Garfield’s, offers an disquieting exploration of what it means to have and keep faith.

Silence explores struggle beyond religious persecution. Rodrigues (Garfield) struggles to reconcile unimaginable cruelty and the implications for his relationship with God. Garre (Driver) and Rodrigues (Garfield) are at pains to decide how best to accomplish their task while helping other Christians. As Japan endeavors to repel this foreign religion, if not the West entirely, we see struggle writ large. The contrasts throughout this film weave a discouraging web, ensnaring all involved; relief from one offers no respite from the others.

For all the dark moments, there is hope, too. As with so much of this movie, there is light contrasting the dark, hope living where and when it seems least likely. Silence asks deeply personal questions and resolves those questions such that the answers must come from within. Still, being Christian isn’t a necessary prerequisite for engaging with this film. Silence doesn’t play like a religious tract. Rather than proselytizing for close to three hours, Scorsese tells a story that’s a somber testament to humanity’s counterintuitive capacity for empathy and pointless cruelty.

Silence (2016)
Director:  Martin Scorsese
Studio:  Paramount
Genre:  Drama
MPAA:  R
Release Date:  December 2016 (January 6th, 2017)
Author:  Jason M. Brown
Jason MBrown Seattle native Jason M. Brown traded liquid sunshine for the real thing when he recently moved to San Diego. Jason graduated from Washington State University with a Humanities degree focusing on English and has worked as a copywriter. An avid fan of comedy, horror, and almost any movie that started as a comic book, Jason lives in California, but still loves Seattle Seahawks football, apologies to the Chargers.

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