Silence (USA/Japan/Taiwan/UK/Mexico/Italy, 2016)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese. Even though, in general, I really liked this movie, I feel like I should start with this, which you probably read. It’s the interview where Scorsese says that cinema, as he knew it growing up, the special occasion, the wonder of a giant screen, the rarity of the films, etc, is dead and gone, and he kind of laments that as a pretty negative thing, and he kind of compares that situation unfavourably with the current situation of 22 giant $300 million plus superhero CGI blockbusters per year, which you can instantly watch on your 3 inch phone screen or on your watch. And really, I can see that, I can see the point he’s making, and it’s a valid point and it’s expected from someone like him. He says “I probably sound like an old man—well I am an old man”, and I like that. It shouldn’t be surprising that someone of his age would feel this way, because I’m much younger and I still kind of feel that way a little bit. It’s easy to be cynical and compare the experience he had of seeing Lawrence of Arabia in giant format (Vista Vision?) when he was a kid, versus me seeing Star Wars: The Phantom Menace when I was a kid. They were both “event” movies, but one was great and one was poo (to put it simply—I don’t have big opinions on either).

I guess the reason I introduce this Scorsese interview into my review here is the fact that, whether he meant to or not, he has in effect put this movie forth as an antidote to all of the things he laments are being lost in modern cinema, he hopes that Silence could re-create that experience for people that he feels is missing. And I have to say, I get why most people would be immediately turned off by this movie, especially under those circumstances, but I also went into the movie fully hoping to be captivated by a gigantic (3 hours) piece of magic, a faraway land a long time ago, etc, and I kind of was. It worked for me. I was transported away for 3 hours, I was very much absorbed into this story, the plight of these 2 missionaries, even though I’m not Christian and I kind of don’t even agree ethically with the entire idea of spreading your religion around the world. For me there was a distance the whole time, every time I was asked by the film to feel bad for these poor missionaries being tortured, which is kind of the entire film, I couldn’t help but think in the back of my head, “yeah, but why don’t you just stop trying to push your religion on another country?”. But even with this stuff in my head, I was still utterly captivated by the whole thing, those two main characters and the supporting actors, my god, the acting in this thing! And again, I don’t really give a shit about Adam Driver or Andrew Garfield, I was even kind of hostile to them, but they completely won me over. The supporting cast of Japanese actors were all amazing. That character Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka) is one of the most memorable I’ve seen in film in a long time, I still have no idea what’s really going on with him. And the way the actors play the Grand Inquisitor (Issey Ogata) and the interpreter guard guy (Tadanobu Asano), those performances are so memorable. I don’t know if it’s something from Japanese traditional theatre, or something Scorsese told them to do, but I don’t see delivery like that in most Hollywood movies. For that matter, Garfield and Driver were doing it too, and it was really effective for me. There’s a ton of shit that probably didn’t work for people in this movie, and I get that, I get why it wasn’t a runaway blockbuster, I get why it wasn’t the saviour of cinema that Scorsese, consciously or not, set it up to be. But I thought it was a well made, absorbing, evocative exploration of human emotion and human faith and human social systems, set in a beautiful landscape, in an interesting period of history that I had never thought of before, and it has Liam Neeson in it. All that being said, I didn’t realize that someone had died in the making of this film, so that’s definitely a tragedy. It’s my stated opinion that if someone dies in order for you to make your art, you’re doing it wrong. Plenty of great art happened without anyone dying or losing their fingers or anything else. So this movie definitely wasn’t worth it, and it’s not going to put a single dent into superhero CGI culture (if anything, Andrea Arnold and Barry Jenkins and their ilk can hopefully make some headway in that respect), but as a film, I thought it was better than good, I think it was kind of great.

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2 responses to “Silence (USA/Japan/Taiwan/UK/Mexico/Italy, 2016)

  1. One reason it’s a great film is that it asks the same question you did, about why they are there trying to push their religion on another country. And yes, the Japanese actors were terrific, as was the entire cast. Personally I agree with Scorsese that the culture has moved too far in the direction of fast movies that don’t give you time to look or think, and don’t offer much in the way of ideas–to say nothing of the tiny screens!

  2. Pingback: Free Fire (UK, 2017) | Offhand Reviews·

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