Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Silence

Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver worship at the church of Scorsese.


Paramount Pictures

The question of God's silence in the face of human suffering has tested religious faith throughout the ages. Now Martin Scorsese has made a movie about it. It's a serious movie, admirable in its close examination of moral issues. But its nearly three-hour length may test some viewers' patience—the picture itself seems to grind on for ages.

Getting Silence made appears to have been a Stations of the Cross experience for Scorsese. After discovering the 1966 novel by Sh?saku End?, the director and his co-writer, Jay Cocks, spent more than 15 years, on and off, drafting an acceptable script. Then came the search for financing—tough going for a long, talky movie about a pair of Portuguese priests in 17th-Century Japan. Finally there was a grueling three-and-a-half month shoot amid the rain and mud and stony hills of Taiwan.

The story begins in 1640, with two young Jesuits, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), receiving word that their spiritual mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a longtime missionary in faraway Japan, has renounced his Catholic faith, married a Japanese woman, and become a Buddhist monk. Alarmed by this news, the younger priests set out from the Portuguese colony of Macau to track down their old friend.

Although Roman Catholicism had taken tentative root in Japan nearly a hundred years earlier, by the time Rodrigues and Garupe arrive, the imported religion is an object of violent suppression. Japanese converts are forced to perform their rituals in secret, and to hide as best they can from the traveling samurai inquisitors who are determined to root them out and exterminate them.

Scorsese doesn't flinch from showing us the particulars of this persecution, of course. We see native believers scourged with boiling water, burned alive, suspended and bleeding out over deep pits, bound in straw mats and thrown into the sea. In one big, roaring scene—the most powerful in an otherwise underpowered movie—we see a group of men lashed to wooden crucifixes set up along a rocky shore, facing the in-rushing tide and gasping as waves break over their heads and slowly extinguish their lives. (One can't help thinking, while watching all this, that Rodrigues and Garupe themselves might have participated in similar atrocities back home in Portugal, where they could have joined their fellow Jesuits in the Inquisition and devised torments of their own for similarly reviled Jews, Muslims and heterodox Christians.)

"Why must they suffer so much?" Rodrigues asks God in prayer—and we can hear lifelong-Catholic Scorsese posing the same question. What kind of deity allows such anguish and injustice to be an eternal feature of human existence? "How can I explain His silence to these people?" the priest wonders. The inquisitors try to force the Christians to refute their faith by trampling on an engraving of Jesus; if they won't, their friends will suffer. Rodrigues refuses on principle, but soon begins to wonder if adherence to such rote gestures can justify the pain he knows it will cause.

As it turns out, Father Ferreira has been thinking about these things for a much longer time, and when Rodrigues finally reaches him, at a Buddhist temple in Nagasaki, their quiet discussion of the meandering paths of mercy provides the movie's metaphysical high point.

Unfortunately—perhaps for reasons of logistical difficulty—the picture isn't very Scorsese-like. There's little of his inventive camera style (even with Rodrigo Prieto handling the cinematography) and none of his quick wit or jolts of action. The director draws sharp performances from some of the Japanese actors—especially Issei Ogata as an oddly grinning inquisitor and Tadanobu Asano as a devious interpreter. But Garfield and Driver don't play off each other in an interesting way (and you might wish there were a little less of Garfield's murmuring choirboy narration). It's too bad: these are wounding flaws in a movie that draws them out much too long.

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  1. Yes – get angry at me. Let me know how that works out for you.

    1. Merry Christmas!

  2. I saw the trailer for this when I went to see Arrival and I actually thought they’d made a movie of “The Sparrow” a sci-fi novel featuring Jesuits and a pretty interesting read.

    About halfway through the trailer, I realized these priests are in medieval Japan rather than another planet, and I lost interest up until the next trailer, with Denzel Washington playing an emotionally abusive dad, left me wondering what’s up with all these depressing movies at Christmas.

    1. The Sparrow was beautifully written and terrible. The climax and wrapup suck. But I’ll not spoil everyone else’s time reading it. Worth reading despite its flaws for being interesting sci-fi both from the way the story was written and because I do really like the actual craft of writing in it.

      1. Totally agree, Brett L.

  3. Silence

    Is this an attempt at irony?

    1. Trolling.

      Oh Lord, we beseech Thee, give us this day our mourning lynx that we may know Thy ways and Thy Wisdom.

  4. (One can’t help thinking, while watching all this, that Rodrigues and Garupe themselves might have participated in similar atrocities back home in Portugal, where they could have joined their fellow Jesuits in the Inquisition and devised torments of their own for similarly reviled Jews, Muslims and heterodox Christians.)

    Or, no, no I wouldn’t in a story about Japan in 1640.

    1. Yeah that came out of left field.

      1. Nobody ever expects it.

          1. excellent joke

  5. I guess Chrsitmas Eve Eve is a holiday inside the Beltway.

    1. Or Christmas Eve Eve rather.

      1. It’s called “The friday needed to make it a four-day weekend”. It’s a movable feast.

        1. It’s called Use-or-Lose week. It’s a long week.

          1. Oh, right, there are places where their ‘year’ coincides with the calendar year.

            Our use it or lose it date is the start of the new fiscal year – April Fool’s Day.

    2. Christmas Eve Eve is a holiday for my company. But for some signoffs that I am required to make, Christmas Eve is counted as a workday. WTF!

  6. I still don’t understand how someone can look at our universe and conclude that there is an all-knowing, omnipotent being who loves us. At best such a being either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care one whit about what happens to us.

    1. So much for free will, eh?

      1. Adults encourage children to exercise free will. We don’t let them torture and kill each other if we have the power to stop it.

        1. Explain how God could have stopped the Holocaust.

          1. Maybe not started it?

          2. I mean …. does God have free will or not?

          3. An omnipotent god can do anything, even if I can’t explain how.

            1. Can an omnipotent god change the future? If not, that god is not omnipotent, but if so, then what is the future?

          4. Explain how God could have stopped the Holocaust.

            Get a guy to tell Hitler to cut it out and let his people go, and when he refuses kill every German firstborn? Has a track record of success.

          5. If you can create a universe 13 billion light-years across, I think you can forestall a single bureaucratic decision.

            Headline from Der Sturmer, January 1942: “Snowstorm in Wannsee Ends Conference Early”

        2. God’s love is, in the Christian tradition, best understood by the parable of the prodigal son. The father lets the son go off and squander his inheritance eventually ending up destitute. When the son comes to his sense he is welcomed back and immediately restored to his position.

          It is at least compatible with the notion of free will.

          1. I understand that parable, but, again, adults don’t typically let their children torture and kill other children as part of teaching them to exercise free will responsibly.

            1. This assumes that free will is instrumental for some other goal that a creator might have in mind, instead of freedom being a desirous quality in itself or an inevitable result of our nature, which is also good.

              Freedom to choose necessarily entails freedom to choose wrongly. One can either have freedom and the freely-chosen good as well as freely-chosen bad, or slaves whose good is always pre-assigned and unfree. The level of aesthetic satisfaction one derives from this conclusion would seem to depend on how committed to free will one is; if Christianity or Judaism are correct, evidently God’s libertarianism greatly outpaces our own.

      2. I think, if there were to be such a being, it is actually imperative that he remain deliberately hidden, precisely because to fail to do so would render null and void, any possible concept of free will in created beings. Otherwise, though they could have been created with the “choice” of doing right, it would be an utterly hollow choice, which would obviate the point of ever creating them in the first place.

        To remove the moral connotation and instead put it in terms of a lonely god who desires company, I find the situation still to be similar. Put it this way: unless he were to go incognito into the slums to find her, Kim Jong-un will never know whether his girlfriend loves him for who he really is. And once he’s found her, he must never let her know who he is, or he’ll never know, really, why she stays with him.

        In other words, the only reasons I can find for a god to create other beings become pointless, once their ability to exercise will freely is in any way curtailed; and if it is not, then I can find no reason to expect that a universe with such a god should be in any way distinguishable from one without.

        1. See, I used to think that way, but I had to expand my horizons because I think the idea of anything being “incompatible” ignores the real scope of omnipotence.

          Omnipotence means God could create a reality in which we all exercise free will, AND never do the wrong thing. It doesn’t matter if those things are logically contradictory to us – they only are because that is the limit of human logic in this universe. An omnipotent being could create a universe in which 2+2=458437, and it doesn’t matter that we can’t make sense of that or not – omnipotence encompasses all possibility.

          1. I cannot argue with that, but at the same time, I think it is worth noting that we can only judge using the species of logic that we have, and not any that we don’t.

            Meaning, it is the purest type of assertion to say that there may exist a sort of logic that we don’t have, but upon which, yet, we may be judged. That is undeniably true, but a complete dead end.

    2. God was alot more “hands on” at the beginning of the universe. Then he got bored and sent Jesus to handle his business. We killed Jesus. In conclusion, I have no idea if there is a god or not. Don’t know. Dont care. Im gonna go shopping for a good used drum set today.

      1. “Used” – why do you hate drum manufacturers?!!!

      2. It’s all in the heads.

    3. Appropriate coming from some guy with your handle.

    4. What annoys me perhaps teh most is the clowns who say science can’t answer the question of what came before the Big Bang or how the Big Bang created something from nothing, and then claim believing in God does answer the question. What came before God? Who created God? God has always been.

      Everything else I can at least accept as some alternate morality, no matter how inconsistent and mean.

      1. Don’t use science as a crutch if it can’t answer the ultimate question. The problem is science shouldn’t require faith clearly in your case, the crutch of scientistism lives by faith alone.

        1. Say hi to Baby Jeebus on saturday night. Hope he leaves you lots of nice prezzies.

    5. My brother says the worst day of his life was when his precious little darling daughter found out she had to go back to the hospital for a second round of treatment and she came running to him in terror, clamping onto his leg and bawling for her daddy to save her from the bad people who wanted to hurt her.

      Maybe God attempting to explain to you how the universe works would be like you attempting to explain to a five-year old how leukemia works.

      1. “God never gives you more than you can handle.”

        “Oh? So if we were weaker people my daughter wouldn’t have leukemia?”

        I am adapting a conversation I overheard once to the situation you describe. In the real conversation was between a baptist preacher and a young woman during the young woman’s daughter’s funeral. The 6 year old daughter was killed in a car wreck.

        1. This sounds more like how government works. The more productive you are, the more it “asks” of you.

        2. It sounds like an awkward paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:13 –

          “No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.”

      2. Maybe God attempting to explain to you how the universe works would be like you attempting to explain to a five-year old how leukemia works.

        That’s essentially the moral of the Book of Job: you can’t understand what it’s like to be God so asking why He allows things to be as they are is pointless.

        1. God really got snarky and sarcastic in his final speech in Job.

      3. But your Brother isn’t omnipotent. If he were, he would use that power to help his child, whether he could explain to her how it works out not.

        1. By your definition of omnipotence then God makes no claim to be omnipotent. Clearly when an omnipotent being interacts with a flawed being the flawed beings limited comprehension can you know limit comprehension. That doesn’t actually make the omnipotent being any less omnipotent.

  7. two young Jesuits, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), receiving word that their spiritual mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson)

    How DARE they cast Liam Neeson as an Iberian! CULTURAL APPROPRIATION!!

    1. Ha. I was thinking something seems a little off when you have Portuguese priests named Garfield, Driver, and Neeson.

      1. “I gave up lasagna for Lent.”

    2. In the original Silence, director Shinoda cast a Japanese person to play the older Jesuit priest. It’s jarring.

      Surprised Loder didn’t mention that this movie is a remake.

      1. Does it count as a remake when they’re both renditions of the same book?

    3. Iberian was originally Celtic (Celtiberians they are called), so it’s not that odd, actually.

  8. When all else fails – read the directions.

  9. I see that Scorcese has a chapter in this book – not surprising.

  10. One thing the Church does is make clear that life – especially the life of the faithful – is full of great suffering. One fairly clear promise from Christ is that His followers will suffer and be persecuted. This is reinforced in Catholic art and literature, to the extent that the Church is often famously criticized for being really depressing about conditions in this world.

  11. A non-practicing Jewish friend says that if God is the “God of Israel ” then he’s been doing a piss-poor job over the centuries in protecting them from the wrath of their enemies. Any practicing Jews out there who can explain centuries of pogroms against innocent Jews?

    1. The Old Testament generally describes the woes of the Israelites as punishment for unfaithfulness to God – I won’t try to extend this to the post-OT period, simply mentioning the, literally, canonical explanation.

      1. (nb – post Vatican II, Catholics tend to be cautious about offering such an explanation, because such rhetoric can be misused for anti-Semitic purposes)

      2. Interesting indeed. So the faithful Orthodox Jews really believe that God allowed Hitler to murder 6 million mostly innocent Jews because some number of said Jews were unfaithful to God? Who would want to worship a God capable of such evil?

        1. I was talking about the events in the Old Testament, Hitler was a bit after that, hence I don’t know how Jewish thought classifies the Holocaust and the Problem of Evil, except that I’m given to understand they’ve given it some thought.

          1. And even the Old Testament includes the Book of Job where Job is righteous but suffers anyway.

        2. WATCH: Israeli minister says: “if you stay silent in the vote against Israel, you’re supporting the forces of terror .. airplanes hitting WTC .. truck attacks in Berlin”

    2. The pharisess and saduccees were considered ‘practicing jews’ as well as current settlers in the occupied terroristories. I don’t think you ought to be overly concerned with their opinions.

    3. God created Israel to train the faithful.

  12. Jesus Christ people, what more do you want??

  13. (One can’t help thinking, while watching all this, that Rodrigues and Garupe themselves might have participated in similar atrocities back home in Portugal, where they could have joined their fellow Jesuits in the Inquisition and devised torments of their own for similarly reviled Jews, Muslims and heterodox Christians.)

    Uh, what the fuck are you talking about, Kurt?

    1. Same; who does he include in the population of those “ones?”
      Did you know that the Jesuits drank water and ate food? Hitler also drank water and ate food – think about it!

  14. Obligatory, and I’m ashamed no one has said it yet:

    What does God need with a starship?

    1. As a vehicle for William Shattner, in one the bad Star Trek movies?

  15. Aronofsky’s Noah was similarly a diatribe against God – “Why have you forsaken me??” Yet – we haven’t heard much from Aronofsky lately (about which I would ask the same question).

    Check out my latest: The Silence of the Jews

  16. This is random but!! I just created my account!! Yay!

    1. Welcome! Now don’t be a dick here, please?

  17. Kurt: So you’re saying it would be better to be nailed to a cross and die (much quicker, too?) than to have to watch this movie?

  18. Whatever, it’s Scorcese on faith in Japan Taiwan; I’m there.

  19. The question of God’s silence in the face of human suffering has tested religious faith throughout the ages.

    Ingmar Bergman covered this pretty thoroughly with some movies already. The Seventh Seal, for one of several.

  20. happy christmas

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  21. I really recommend the book and the author in general. He’s a strange guy in the annals of Japanese literature.

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