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Hello MoFo's and welcome to another edition of At the Theater with The Gunslinger45. A new year has started and that brings new hope for the future and the start of a new cinematic year. It also brings wide releases for films that got limited releases in 2016. Hence we have the wide releases of Silence and Patriots Day. Two films I want to see. But when given the choice between the two, you know which flick I will choose. There are three constants in the film world. The MPAA is loony, the 70’s were awesome for film, and The Gunslinger45 LOVES Martin Scorsese! Anyone who has been here long enough knows Martin Scorsese is my favorite film director. I have seen all of his feature films, he directed my favorite movie, and he was integral in my favorite period of film: New Hollywood. The last time I visited Scorsese in the theater it was in 2013 with The Wolf of Wall Street. Most people here know how much I adored that movie and how it has become a top 25 favorite film for me. So naturally I have been dying to see his new work. This film however does not focus on crime, instead choosing to focus on another of his favorite themes; the Catholic faith. Marty was raised in Holy Mother Church even to the point where he wanted to become a priest. And while he went into film and has since lapsed as a Catholic, he has stated that the spirituality is still something ingrained in him. And this movie has been a passion project for him for the past two and a half decades. And it has only been recently that he was able to fulfill his artistic vision. Now Scorsese is no stranger as using faith, Catholicism, or Catholic guilt as themes in his movies. Many of his films incorporate these themes to one degree or another. Catholic guilt was a heavy theme in Mean Street and Raging Bull and they were used in moderation with Taxi Driver. But concepts of faith and religion were in full view in his passion project based of a fictional novel, The Last Temptation of Christ. Silence is another such passion project for Scorsese. The film deals with spirituality, is another adaptation of a novel, but this time it explores Christianity in the Land of the Rising Sun. Will this film be as controversial as The Last Temptation? Find out as we explore Silence.

The film’s plot centers around two Portuguese Jesuit priests Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver). They priests in the time of the Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christians). A historical time of religious persecution of Japanese Catholic converts during the Tokugawa shogunate. Christians are tortured, persecuted and executed with many dying as martyrs. Among the persecuted is another Jesuit Priest Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Father Ferreira was their mentor and news reaches them that he has renounced his faith, thus becoming an apostate. Not believing that their mentor and man who helped them foster their faith would ever renounce God; the priests leave the St Paul Mission at Macau not only to find their mentor, but to spread Catholicism. The film portrays their struggles of faith, the persecution of Japanese Christians, and exploring the concept of God’s silence.

Now I really enjoyed the movie on many levels. The first thing that struck me was the cinematography and creation of the shots. After an excellent opening title scene, we are thrust deep into Edo period Japan with a far out shot of the Japanese country side. The shot has rocky hills with steam and smoke rising from the ground of the local hot springs. What blew me away was how even though I bought a ticket for a Scorsese movie; he opens the flick with a shot straight out of a Kurosawa period piece. And that is part of what really enthralled me about this film. The plot and themes of the flick are pure Scorsese. The film also incorporates a few of his visual signatures like slow motion, voice overs, etc. But the setting and heavy visual theme of nature and the elements is drawn straight from Akira Kurosawa. There are many homage’s of the more famous Kurosawa shots in this movie. I saw one shot that looked like it was from the trial scene in Rashomon, others like it was from Kagemusha, and the viewing the opening shot of Silence reminded me of Ran. And the elements themselves are used heavily by Scorsese in this movie. There are lots of shots in the rain, the fog, the ocean, darkness, sun, and wind. And Scorsese was able to use these outdoor shots and craft such breath taking visuals. I was really impressed. I had heard he drew heavily from Kurosawa on this film, and I was really delighted to see he pulled it off so well. It felt like I just watched one last Kurosawa movie. At least in the visual sense of the film. I also need to heap heavy praise on the Japanese cast because they shine in this film. The Japanese cast either speak nothing but Japanese (with subtitles) or speak little or broken English; with bilingual characters being the rare exception. And when they are bilingual they are usually center characters to the plot.

The core of the film however is crafted by Martin Scorsese. The film centers on the struggle of the Catholic martyrs who suffer and die for their faith. You see tortures and executions at the hands of the Buddhist soldiers, samurai, and the Grand Inquisitor who is the governor of the area. You also see the priests spread the faith, hold mass, baptize children and adults, and hear confession. But you also see the great length the priests and the Japanese Christians go just to hide their worship. And while the concept of faith is central to the movie, it is silence that is the ultimate lynch pin of the film. The concept of God’s silence is not new to cinema. It has been explored by Bergman often enough. And while the idea of a silent God for Bergman was more of a Scandinavian (and I assume Atheist) perspective, Scorsese comes at it from a Catholic viewpoint. This is seen in the voice overs of Father Rodrigues and especially when he says God has forsaken him. A clear reference to the struggle Christ went through during his crucifixion. In fact there are many parallels that Father Rodrigues faces that mirror the final days of Christ. And that was meant to be deliberate and even mentioned in the film by Father Ferreira. Though where Christ was the Lamb of God and the one who bore the pain and suffering from his scourging and execution, it is the Japanese Christians who suffer the most in the film. Very little is done to Father Rodrigues physically. The Japanese Governor and Inquisitor does not want to make the priests martyrs, he wants them to renounce their faith so they can serve as an example. As such, he tortures and executes the Japanese Christians. This naturally torments Rodrigues; but what makes the suffering so bad for him is that through all the struggles, trials, and torture he feels that God has left him alone. That God sits silently and watches. Hence the title of the book and the movie.

Now I did know the ending of the book going into the film and it stays true to that. I won't spoil it for you. But I did like was what it seems Scorsese added at the end.

WARNING: "Major Spoilers" spoilers below
In the end Rodrigues becomes an apostate. During his final trial God finally speaks to him. God tells him that he has always been there with him, and tells Rodrigues to trample upon a fumie (a piece of Japanese religious iconography). Rodrigues then lives the life of a Japanese man with frequent renunciations of God as part of the government keeping tabs on him. This leads to his cremation ceremony and Buddhist burial with his Japanese name. All of this happens in the book, but I have found no evidence of what follows next was in the original novel. The camera pans into the vessel holding Rodrigues’ body and we see a small hand carved wooden crucifix in his hand. Bringing the theme of Silence to full term. He suffered the silence of God, and now has kept the faith in silence. While it may divide the faithful on if this was a true keeping of the faith, I thought was a very good way to end the film.

I really liked this movie. The scale of the film with its shots and locations was epic. The themes of the film is pure Scorsese and it felt visually I was watching a lost film Akira Kurosawa movie. I really enjoyed it and I will most certainly want to buy this on Blu Ray when it comes to DVD. It may have people in the Vatican split, but put me in the camp that enjoyed the film.