In case you aren’t aware, there’s a bit of a Christian film craze happening in America right now. These are films exclusively made for a Christian audience and they usually see a devout Christian being oppressed in some way by atheists, but the Christian obviously rallies back and we all start to pray. Or something like that, they are usually very bad. That’s because the films only exist to soothe the minds of people who think anything that doesn’t attend church on a Sunday is terrible, rather than be good pieces of entertainment. However just because a film is drenched in Christianity, doesn’t mean it’s going to be bad. Silence aims to prove that.
A report that Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List) has rescinded his Christianity while doing missionary work in Japan has reached Italy. Not believing this, two of his students Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, The Amazing Spider-Man) and Garupe (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) head to Japan to try and find him and rescue him.
The thing that instantly strikes you about Silence is the alien atmosphere it establishes as soon as our main characters enter Japan. Even though the environment looks very familiar, I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie was shot in North Yorkshire never mind Japan, the movie makes it feel like it’s an alien planet just through the camerawork alone. And the movie never goes back to doing the easy thing to establish the alien nature of this country. We all know the typical sounds used by media to establish something is Far Eastern and it could have been very easy for the film to be lazy and simply use these to further the alien nature of the land Rodrigues and Ganupe find themselves on. Yet the director Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) doesn’t, he actually uses very little music and instead lets the film rest on the quality of his camera work and the performances of his actors.
And that is a very wise choice because his actors do incredible work. You can make the jokes that this is the second Christian film where Andrew Garfield goes through hardship in Japan to be released this year, seriously how did this incredibly niche genre get hit by the same actor in the same year, but he has done the best work of his career in this sort of movie. And yes, he is great in Hacksaw Ridge but he is a million times better in this. He is given a lot more to work with here, as he aims to show the world that he is truly devoted to God while questions his belief inside when shown the tests that Japanese Christians are put through to prove their own devotion. It is a brilliant turn and a shame that his role in Hacksaw Ridge was the one that got nominated for the Oscars rather than his showing here.
And ok, let’s make the admittedly cheap comparison to those Christian movies released in America like God’s Not Dead and Old Fashioned. In those films, they like to act like the main character is oppressed because of a straw man atheist that was cooked up in the fever dreams of Fox News, and that it is a test of faith to basically convert the straw man atheist and make the world a happy God loving place. Basically, they often ignore basic Christian values like understanding and kindness in favour of crusades against the disbelievers. So even as someone who doesn’t believe, it’s great to see a film that understands those values and actually sees them tested. The Japanese Christians in this film are actualy oppressed because instead of thinking they have to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, they are killed if they believe in God. So when Rodrigues’ beliefs stay strong despite this, it actually means something.
And yes, Silence gets incredibly intense and that’s when the film truly turns into something special and memorable. I have seen a lot of people get brutalised in movies and if I’m completely honest, I’ve started to get desensitised to a lot of it. Yet his movies gets so intense that even the briefest acts of violence, stuff I’ve seen and laughed at in other movies, become truly shocking because of the way it is built up. This is certainly the case in the middle third of the movie, which I won’t spoil simply because these scenes are some of the best you’ll see all year and make this movie a genuine film of the year candidate.
So here comes the part where I really try to nitpick this brilliant film and unfortunately I do have some quibbles. Some of the reveals in the final act are a bit predictable, though I can’t really be too angry because they serve the plot perfectly well and make it the truly great movie it actually is. And in something that is still bugging me now, a scene which should be horrifying as a woman is being set on fire is ruined because it is quite awfully CGIed. I know you can do this effect well because I remember being disturbed when Fury did a similar effect just a few years ago.
Silence is a truly amazing film. When you’ve got so many Christian films that spit in the face of the values they say they want to bring back to America, it’s great to see a movie which show faith in such a great light by showing what it truly can do. And that is that in the toughest of environments and in the face of truly terrible events, faith can give us a purpose and keep us going. And this is coming from someone who burns anytime he enters a church. So even if you aren’t religious, watch this movie to see the power of faith and also a truly amazing film. Silence is very much this.