‘Silence’ is a Scorsese’s Masterwork

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A TEST OF FAITH—Liam Neeson as Father Ferreira, a Portuguese Jesuit who is said to have abandoned his faith while spreading Christianity in Japan. Photo by Kerry Brown/Paramount Pictures

Martin Scorsese read Shusaku Endo’s historic novel about 17th century Jesuit missionaries in feudal Japan in 1989. As a Roman Catholic he was deeply moved by the story and optioned it, but it has taken nearly thirty years for him to fulfill his spiritual and cinematic quest. The end result is a masterwork and well worth the wait.

Martin Scorsese read Shusaku Endo’s historic novel about 17th century Jesuit missionaries in feudal Japan in 1989. As a Roman Catholic he was deeply moved by the story and optioned it, but it has taken nearly thirty years for him to fulfill his spiritual and cinematic quest. The end result is a masterwork and well worth the wait.

The noted director grew up in New York’s Little Italy and was an altar boy in his youth. He now considers himself a lapsed Catholic, but his devotion to Christ still burns bright and shines throughout his latest work about faith, doubt, despair and devotion.

In a recent interview Andrew Garfield, who plays the young Jesuit priest Father Sebastiao Rodrigues,  said, “I remember sitting on set one day after I had shot all my takes….And I looked over at Marty working, and he was in a courtyard, sitting there in what looked like a prayer position. And on the monitor in front of him is an image of Christ. And I thought, ‘That’s his life. His whole life. Cinema and Christ. It’s everything.”

“Silence” begins as two young Portuguese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) seek to go to Japan to minister to Catholic converts there. They also want to try and find their spiritual mentor, Father Christovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who may have renounced Christ to save himself from martyrdom. When they arrive at their destination they are introduced to a guide who can lead  them to where converts are living in hiding. Kichijiro, their guide, is a very conflicted man, a convert who denied his faith by stepping on a fumi-e, a replica of Christ, to avoid a violent death . He is terrified of dying, but after each transgression and betrayal he begs Father Rodrigues to hear his confession and grant him absolution, confessing that he is weak man.

Both Rodrigues and Father Francisco Garrpe (Driver) are willing to die for their faith, but after seeing so much carnage at the hands of the Grand Inquisitor (Issey Ogata) who is willing to let Christians live if they renounce their belief, they wonder if they should break their silence and tell these gentle peasants to seek life, not a martyr’s death. Witnessing the constant brutality  is breaking Father Rodrigues’ heart and he  cries out in anguish for an answer from God–but there is a silence he cannot comprehend. Does the silence signify that Christ does not exist?  Or does it mean he must decide what is best for these devout Christians willing to die for their new found religion.

To limit costs, “Silence” was filmed in Taiwan, not Japan. The cinematography garnered an Oscar nomination for the film.

“Silence,” is rated R for some disturbing violent content. Running time: 2 hours and 41 minutes.

*****

On Tuesday, January 24, the Oscar nominations were announced, and to my utter amazement Scorsese’s brilliant film “Silence” was not nominated. Nine films were chosen, but there is room for ten contenders. The only Oscar recognition the film received was for cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto.

The nine nominated films, in alphabetical order are: “Arrival”, “Fences”, “Hacksaw Ridge”, “Hell or High Water”, “Hidden Figures”, “La La Land”, “Lion”, “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight.”