Review / ‘Silence’ (MA) *** and a half

IF you try to find a cogent explanation of Martin Scorsese’s objective from his 167 minutes long filming of Shusaku Endo’s novel of the conflict between the Japanese emperor in the middle of the 17th century and the attempt by the Jesuits to establish Catholicism in that country, whatever conclusion you reach is likely to be only marginally significant or satisfying.

The screenplay by Jay Cocks and Scorsese canvasses moral, religious and emotional issues as the film accompanies Fathers Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), despatched to Japan to catch up on what Father Cristovao Ferreira (1580-1650, the film’s only character with an authentic history and here played by Liam Neeson) has been doing since handing his last report several years earlier to a Dutch trader for delivery to the Order in Portugal.

Intellectually complex, the film speaks of 300,000 converts to Catholicism – other sources say 100,000. Either way, the number was enough to alarm the Japanese Emperor who appointed a bureaucracy to root it out. This bunch of loyal functionaries led by an exquisitely subtle interrogator (Nisao Ogata) exercised incredible power within its remit. Much of the film deals with how they went about it. Scorsese doesn’t mince matters in depicting their techniques. Their methods of inflicting pain as a persuasive measure for extended periods that might lead to death form a significant component of the film’s time.

Father Rodrigues’ stubborn resistance against pressure from the interrogator to apostatise provides the film with interesting, if sometimes unconvincing, theological arguments. The action frequently reflects the story told in the Christian gospels. And when finally revealed through an interpreter (Tadanobu Asano), the reasons underlying the conversion of the flock present a perverse rationality.

I expect that committed Christians will find “Silence” rewarding. The rest of us might value it rather less. And as you might expect, there’s not a lot of laughs in it.

At Dendy and Palace Electric

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