Director Martin Scorsese gives ‘passion project’ new meaning with the powerful religious drama Silence.

The faith of two 17th century Jesuit priests is severely tested in an agonised meditation on belief and doubt.

Silence (NC16: violence)

Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson Directed by Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese considered entering priesthood, long before he became one of America’s finest living filmmakers. Silence follows 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ and 1997’s Kundun in completing the 74-year-old Italian-Catholic director’s ‘religious trilogy’ with an austere spiritual drama of stark power and agonised despair.

Scorsese co-wrote with his The Age of Innocence (1993) and Gangs of New York (2002) collaborator Jay Cocks this adaptation of Shusaku Endo's 1966 acclaimed historical novel, previously filmed, in 1971, by Japanese director Masahiro Shinoda.

It narrates the test of faith of two Portuguese missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), who smuggle themselves into 17th century Japan to search for their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) and spread the gospel at a time when Christianity was outlawed as a malign foreign influence. Suspected converts are tortured, either burned at the stake, drowned in the ocean or hung in a pit to bleed to death in the feudal government’s savage campaign of persecution.

The mere presence of the Jesuit padres brings terrible danger to the furtive converts sheltering them.

Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver are the pair co-starring opposite Issei Ogata’s inquisitor of smiling menace and Tadanobu Asano’s silver-tongued interpreter. The Japanese actors, including Kubozuka Yosuke in the role of the emissaries’ guide, a Judas figure, are indelible. And Liam Neeson makes a late entry as their mysterious mentor.  

Garfield’s young Father Rodrigues is the tormented conscience of this meditation on conviction and doubt, paradise and hell, pride, martyrdom and cultural monotheism as he struggles over whether to apostasise, to publicly renounce his religion in order to save the Christian villagers, or to hold true to his devotion.

What would Jesus do?

Scorsese attempts no answer because the Lord himself gives no guidance. Hence the movie’s title: God’s silence in the face of human suffering is Rodrigues’ greatest anguish, echoing, so very cruelly, against the vast painterly vistas of nature’s beauty. 4.5/5

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