Liam Neeson in Silence
Published: 28 December, 2016
by DAN CARRIER
Directed by Martin Scorsese
THE simple fact is Martin Scorsese’s extraordinary film is beautiful to look at, amazing in terms of the performances, and has a story that should be enticing. But sadly it’s a little too much how sitting through a mega-long Sunday service on an uncomfortable pew must feel for a non-believer.
This story of how a Jesuit missionary reacts to pain and suffering in the name of his faith might find better traction with those of a religious persuasion, but for an atheist, after an hour of gruelling cruelty where God does little to step in, you begin to think: enough, already.
Scorsese, who was brought up in a large Catholic family, read Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel that speaks about God’s silence in the face of human suffering: how can a God sit back and watch the creatures he put on this earth have such an awful time of it, is the general thrust.
The tale starts with two Portuguese missionaries Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) embarking on a quest to find out what happened to their missing mentor Father Christovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson).
They hear he has disappeared while spreading the gospel in Japan, and rumours reach them that he has renounced his religion. They want to find out if this is true, and if so, save his soul.
As they reach Japan, they find a country where the ruling classes are determined to stop the spread of Catholicism; where the ruling Samurai class subject the Christians they find to horrible torture. We follow the two priests as they traipse through mud and blood and dirt and violence to help save souls, find their mentor and avoid capture by Japanese forces seeking Christians to persecute.
A special mention goes to the scene-stealing performance by Issey Ogata, who takes on the role of Inoue, the Inquisitor who saw it as his job to explain to the missionaries why it was better for all concerned that they gave up trying to convert people to follow Jesus. His is a splendid performance – he stands out in a crowd of leads who are fantastic in their portrayal of a clash of spiritual cultures.
But its sheer length makes it feel like you are paying penance for previous film-watching sins (like you’ve been caught enjoying Dirty Dancing just one too many times), while the overriding purpose of this film – how can a God allow devotees to suffer so much for their faith if he is all-powerful? – essentially is the motivator of just about every scene.
Once you’ve seen one agonisingly slow battle of wits about whether a believer should tread on an image of Christ or not, you’ve kind of seen them all.