Monday, December 26, 2016

Thoughts on Martin Scorsese's SILENCE (2016)

I saw the SILENCE with Nate Hood over this past weekend. It was a film that both of us were highly stoked to see and which we were both going into having previously  devoured the source novel by Shusaku Endo. Additionally I had seen the earlier film by Masahiro Shinoda which was written by Shinoda and Endo.

Both Nate and I were holding off completing our best of the year lists because we wanted to see how the film figured into things. I'm not sure how Nate is figuring his list but I'm including the film on my best of the year list, not because I feel strongly that it is a holy grail film, rather because in reading the reviews (which have been all over the place) and being in a theater with a paying audience I find that few films have provoked such strong reactions in the audience. SILENCE is a full frontal assault on your belief system.

As I said not only have I read reviews that were across the spectrum, but so was the response by the audience.  Those sitting around me reacted to the violence on the screen, some members sobbed at some of the turns, while others huffed and puffed and stormed out of the theater unimpressed. Clearly Scorsese is hitting a lot of buttons and I must commend him for forcing his viewers to engage with the film.

Like the novel I was not fully engaged with the film for a chunk of the early story. The film, like the novel takes a bit to get going as it moves it's characters around to certain point where we suddenly find that we are engaged. For me the point I knew I was engaged was when Father Rodrigues speaks with Mokichi before he goes off to meet his end. There was something about the character's expression of belief that made me to mist up. It was at that point I knew that the film was on the right track. I remained engaged all the way to the end finding myself deeply moved on several more occasions.

There is something about Scorsese's examination of faith that rang true for me. Some how Scorsese's refashioning of Endo's themes about the nature of belief in an alien world  into something about belief in our hearts worked for me. Interestingly I don't think Scorsese threw out any of Endo's (or even Shinoda's) themes or ideas, all I think he did was highlighted them differently.

I have a friend who is a rabid atheist who disliked the film a great deal. He had trouble with the end section of the film. While we never spoke of specifics I suspect he had a problem with the final confrontation of the film onward since the film's playing of  events are not as ambiguous and are clearly tinged with the mystical where in the novel and earlier film it could be argued there is nothing mystical. To be honest I don't think the film was made for him since I think the film was made more with an ear to hearing something in the silence. This is a film about possibility as opposed to dead certainty. The characters are questing and if you are certain of the answer there really is no reason to look. There is no hint that the mystical is delusional in this film which I know can rattle the cage of some non-believers.

I, one on the road and forever searching for answers, was moved. Perhap this view of God's silence is valid. Perhaps not. either way I find the the themes thrown up interesting to wrestle with. But then again I like to ponder the possibilities since they open up doors to a kind of enlightenment that the certainty of nothing in the darkness closes off.

As a representation of the novel I think the film does a fine job of putting it all on the screen. While the film perhaps does away with a tad of the ambiguity, everything that should be here is on the screen. The performances are first rate and they make the characters real living and breathing people, something I think was missing from the earlier film version. The lack of emotion made the first film a tad too distant for me.

If there is one thing I am unhappy with in regard to the film it is the change of the reason for Father Ferreira's apostatizing. In the film he did it to save himself, while in the novel he does it save the lives of three people in the pit. Its a small thing but without it his path is not as parallel to Rodrigues's as it should be. His advice to his student carries different weight. Its a minor thing in some ways, and not in others. (If you don't know of the change you don't know what is missed)

Ultimately I really like this version of the story. I like that the film makes the characters real and not ideas. I love that the battle of the various themes are given our hearts to battle in not just our heads thus giving the film a better chance to move us.

Admittedly not everyone is going to like the film-it is a challenging film.. Never mind the violence and cruelty even the notions of faith and belief are not always easy to take. This is film that has to be.wrestled with and confronted. To get anything out of it you have to engage with it. To be certain you may hate the film, but at the same time even if you do this is a film that is going to leave a mark. This isn't one you're going to love or hate without having a reason- nor is it a film that you are not going to talk about.

If a great film provokes a reaction then SILENCE is a great film. Go see it.

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