Silence was a film that was set out to be the great and epic journey of two young Jesuit Priests who set out for Japan in the hope of saving their mentor Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson). However, whilst it had its moments of brilliance it felt like a film that had so much potential which it failed to live up to.
The main thing that bothered me whilst watching this film was the lack of character arcs and insight in the film. In most great films there is development of the characters. We can see this with likes of Jack Torrance in “The Shining”, Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption” and my personal favourite, Derek Vinyard in “American History X”. In all of these films the viewers get hooked to these characters due to their journey during the film and as a result are gripped by the actions and emotions that they go through.
In Silence however this was severely lacking. Both Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe barely have any form of arc. They remain bland and boring personalities throughout the film and this is frustrating to watch. Whilst I appreciate that as they are devout Jesuit Priests they are not going to just give up their faith or become riled up easily, their lack of emotion throughout most of the film meant that they did not engage with me. I did not get attached to their personalities as they did not have any. Father Rodrigues starts to show some emotion when he starts to suffer at the hands of the Inquisitor and sees the suffering of his fellow Christians as they receive much worse treatment than he does, but before that there were moments which could have led to some great character development but ended up becoming red herrings. One element of Father Rodrigues’ personality which I could see however was his arrogance. Whilst this aspect of him was the main thing that I saw in him it did not help me engage with him as a character. If anything I was just annoyed by this, as his stubbornness to not stamp on an image of Jesus in order to save not only himself but the lives of his fellow Christians made me dislike him as a person. When he finally does stamp on the image I felt more empathy for the Japanese Christians than I did for Father Rodrigues, as he had had so many opportunities to do this before but his arrogance had kept him going. Whilst it can be argued that this was to show his true faith in God, it can also be seen as him trying to prove to himself and the Inquisitor that he is mentally strong, therefore making it again about his stubbornness and his arrogance. When it comes to Father Garupe, I would challenge anyone to come up with two adjectives to describe him as a character without using the word religious.
One other aspect of this film that bothered me was that there was so much potential for these arcs to be created, however none of them were put to use. The key example of this is the story of Kichijiro. When Kichijiro is first introduced in the film he is shown to be a drunk atheist who has lost his way. The two priests understandably are dubious about trusting him from the start. Once in Japan it is revealed that he is actually an apostatized man who witnessed the burning of his family after he disavowed the church due to cowardice. This moment of realisation for me screamed out for some form of redemption story. This could have been with Kichijiro leading the two priests to Nagasaki and finding their mentor, or finally refusing to disavow Christianity and being at peace after betraying his religion and his family. However, Kichijiro as a character did not change throughout the film. He was given many moments to redeem himself either by not apostatizing or by proving his loyalty to Father Rodrigues however he did neither. At every opportunity he apostatized to save himself, and when he was given a chance to sell out Father Rodrigues for money he took it. Kichijiro to me was a character who had so much wasted potential, which as you can tell by now is a theme for this review.
The other smaller example that I can think of with potential for an arc is regarding one scene between Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe. There is a scene shortly before the duo split up where Father Garupe is obviously frustrated by their journey and their lack of progress and this causes a dispute between the two characters. The dispute ends without the two seriously standing off over the issue. This scene could have been used as the catalyst for a progression in the character’s relationships with each other and as the start of division between two priests who are united in their mission. Again nothing came of this. In the next scene there is no sign of their dispute happening and all carries on as normal.
The final flaw that I noted with this film was with the director himself. Do not get me wrong, Martin Scorsese is an outstanding director. He has directed some of my favourite films of all time in “Goodfellas” and “The Wolf of Wall Street”, however this film was not playing to his usual strengths. This film was much less adrenaline fueled than what you would normally associate with Scorsese, and whilst this in itself is not a bad thing the way that it was executed almost went too much to the polar opposite. I applaud Scorsese for trying to create a more sentimental piece where his characters were more mellow than he is used to, but he just peaked over the edge too far and fell off. The long extended scenes which were designed for tension ended up being plain boring. There was no tension in them, as the characters were obviously not going to change. These scenes were also too long to the point where I lost interest in them. An example of how this has been executed is with the coin toss scene in the shop in “No Country for Old Men”. What makes that scene different to the scenes of tension in “Silence” is that the characters and the whole setting is unpredictable. Nobody knows what Javier Bardem’s character will do in the scene, not even the character himself. We are relying on the coin toss to tell us how this scene is going to end and you can feel the nerves of the shop keeper and the quiet sense of authority that Bardem has over the situation. In “Silence” the tension turns to boredom, as whenever Father Rodrigues engages in conversation with either the Inquisitor or one of his cronies there is no surprise as to what the outcome will be. Father Rodrigues will remain stubborn about his beliefs and the Japanese are just as stubborn with their anti-Christian views. They will go back and forth with their analogies to try and persuade their counterpart of their argument but in the end it will come to nothing and Father Rodrigues will go back to being imprisoned.
The film was not all bad though. As a lover of history I found the story of the Christian oppression in Japan fascinating to find out about as it is not a very well-known topic. The landscape shots and the settings were also incredible, even if they were all filmed in Taiwan and not Japan. The effort had evidently been put in to find the ideal areas to film to get these beautiful shots of Asia and it added some much needed colour to the film. As well as this, the plot itself was a good plot for a film and it was pretty straightforward to follow. However, as I have said multiple times whilst the plot was there to be an epic masterpiece of cinema, the potential was not reached with its substance. It was like being given a Ferrari and finding out it did not have an engine.
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