"Silence" proves Scorsese's faith in passion project

Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield.

Andrew Garfield as Father Rodrigues and Shinya Tsukamoto as Mokichi in the "Silence".

At the core of its tortured heart, Martin Scorsese's epic film Silence is about the profound doubt and not the absolute conviction that may drive men of faith. Scorsese seems to be celebrating the commitment of the Jesuits (whom he consulted at length for authenticity in the film) while at the same time casting their God as unknowable, unanswering, and unreachable. Redemption does not come easy.

The first stretch of Silence offers a contrast between Rodrigues and Garrpe: The Christians can escape persecution if they apostatize-a symbolic gesture where they "trample" their feet on a picture of Jesus-and while Rodrigues thinks they should trample, Garrpe argues it would betray their faith.

Endō's Rodrigues can perhaps be described as one seeking to be faithful, seeking to make sense of life and faith in a complex and shifting world. Rodrigues and Garupe struggle to hold fast to their most deep-seated beliefs as they witness how cruelly Japan's Christians are mistreated by the samurai enforcers of the nation's cultural orthodoxy.

Horrors abound - crucifixions in the sea, families set on fire, various forms of torture. They are responding in their own ways to the question that has inspired serious theologians and self-help hacks for ages: Why does a benevolent God allow terrible things to happen to those who follow him? Rodrigues finds his own answer, but Scorsese is more interested in the question. Silence is restrained, austere, even ascetic; you'll feel guilty eating popcorn as Rodrigues grows ever more gaunt and worn down after willingly subjecting himself to the same harsh treatment at the hands of a Japanese inquisitor (Issey Ogata) that his predecessor endured. An increasingly haunted Rodrigues looks on from a hiding spot. His apostasy is brought about when he is presented with the option of either persisting in his faith and enduring the torture of his Christian flock, or renouncing his Christianity and ensuring their release. That's certainly a take, but it doesn't seem like a novel enough one to support this predictable and generally un-fun a movie. He's dragged you through an endless amount of mud and drizzle and blood, for what?

The nearly 3-hour opus is a slow, methodical and thoughtful meditation on the strength and power of faith even when tested by God's silence in the face of unbearable cruelty and human suffering. Then the film switches gears from a nonverbal visual tapestry to a better, intensely talky intellectual discourse about the nature of religion and its place in specific cultures. It is a literal matter of life and death. Rodrigues wants to emulate Christ. It's the work of a director grappling with familiar themes in a fascinating new way. In the film's sole running joke, Kichijiro begs Rodrigues to hear his confession after every betrayal. It's a fascinating element of the story.

It's only when I truly don't enjoy a movie I've just watched that I leave the theater wondering what the "point" of it was, and I was trying to determine what I was supposed to be getting from Silence long before the credits had even rolled (two hours and 45 minutes, by the way, plus an unplanned 25 or so during my screening, when the sound lost sync two thirds of the way through and they had to restart the reel - I'm sure that affected my experience somewhat).

It is also gorgeous to behold, after Scorsese filmed it in rugged natural locations in Taiwan.

Quite literally so in the case of this new film, a testament to the mystery of faith that Scorsese, a honest but questioning Roman Catholic, has wanted to make for almost 30 years. But the film centers on Garfield who, on the heels of "Hacksaw Ridge", comes up aces in his two most-demanding roles.

"It's called Silence for a reason". This was clearly an important movie for Scorsese; it may or may not be an important movie for you. Here belief is hard won and unsafe - it can get you killed. It is not magic but grueling work. Yet the film also suggests, in a particularly intriguing way, that redemption is possible. But it doesn't demand that you agree, and that's where much of its power lies. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: twitter.com/goodyk.

In the film, one prominent Jesuit (played by Liam Neeson) has already renounced his faith.

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