Film Review: Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’

Courtesy of Paramount

Martin Scorsese rounds out his trilogy of faith-focused epics with this challenging, yet beautiful spiritual journey.

Only in the real world do humans possess free will, whereas any film about the nature of belief effectively requires the director to play God, forcing them to answer the very questions they often set out to raise. Despite this paradox, in the history of cinema, there have been many great films about Christian faith — though not nearly enough: Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “Ordet,” Robert Bresson’s “The Diary of a Country Priest,” Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Léon Morin, Priest.” Now, add to that Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” which marks the culmination of a nearly 30-year journey to adapt Japanese novelist Shūsaku Endō’s tale of a 17th-century Jesuit missionary faced with the dilemma of whether to apostatize.

And yet, judged in broadly cinematic terms, “Silence” is not a great movie, despite having been directed by one of the medium’s greatest masters at a point of great maturity (this is the last film one might expect to immediately follow the bacchanalian excess of “The Wolf of Wall Street”). Though undeniably gorgeous, it is punishingly long, frequently boring, and woefully unengaging at some of its most critical moments. It is too subdued for Scorsese-philes, too violent for the most devout, and too abstruse for the great many moviegoers who such an expensive undertaking hopes to attract (which no doubt explains why Scorsese was compelled to cast “The Amazing Spider-Man” actor Andrew Garfield and two “Star Wars” stars).

Still, viewed through the narrow prism of films about faith, “Silence” is a remarkable achievement, tackling as it does a number of Big Questions in a medium that, owing to its commercial nature, so often shies away from Christianity altogether. Considering the dominant role religious belief plays in the lives of so many, it’s surprising, even scandalous, that so few films face the subject head-on. “Silence” is the largest, most serious-minded examination of faith since Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” rounding out a trilogy on the subject from the director of “Kundun” and “The Last Temptation of Christ.”

At the core of “Silence” lies the dilemma: What does it mean to apostatize? Though the screenplay (which Scorsese adapted with Jay Cocks, his collaborator on “The Age of Innocence” and “Gangs of New York”) intends for us to consider this question on some deep teleological level, the film would do well to engage with it first in more literal terms. For those not already versed in the finer points of Christian dogma, “apostasy” is the act by which someone renounces his faith, represented in the particular context of this film by placing one’s foot upon a fumi-e (or religious carving of Mary or Jesus). Here, apostasy is the weapon by which 17th-century Japanese officials, threatened by European colonial powers and the missionary faith they brought with them, sought to combat the spread of Christianity among peasants receptive to the notion that their suffering might be lifted in heaven.

In Scorsese’s comparably low-key “Kundun,” the future Dalai Lama learns the Four Noble Truths of Buddhist teaching. “What are the causes of suffering?” his teacher asks, to which his pupil responds, “Pride. Pride causes suffering.” This is a priceless insight, and one that Garfield’s character, a presumptuous young “padre” named Sebastião Rodrigues, might do well to learn. Though Rodrigues imagines his greatest obstacle to be God’s silence (he prays constantly, and yet He never responds), the story hinges on the character’s seemingly unbreakable arrogance — a dimension significantly downplayed in Garfield’s self-effacing performance. Instead, the actor focuses on Rodrigues’ doubt, as reflected in the dense clouds of fog and mist that permeate much of the film.

If “Apocalypse Now” was a modern twist on “Heart of Darkness,” then “Silence” could fairly be viewed as Scorsese’s own take on that paradigm. Call it “Soul of Murkiness.” Together with another Portuguese priest, Francisco Garrpe (Driver, who looks the part, his lean, angular face reflecting the severity of classic religious icons), Rodrigues petitions his Jesuit superior (Ciarán Hinds) to let them travel to Japan to investigate the fate of their mentor, father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson) — who’s effectively the film’s AWOL Kurtz. Their only clue is a long-delayed letter, which tells of unspeakable torture practices visited upon Christian priests and converts alike in an attempt to discourage the spread of the religion, coupled with rumors that Ferreira ultimately apostatized and now lives with a wife as a Japanese.

For the sincerely devout Rodrigues, the mission represents an opportunity to do good, offering salvation to the savages, but also a shot at glory. He makes the journey — which, in a two-hour-and-41-minute movie, passes in the blink of an eye — in full awareness that he could be martyred for his actions. With martyrdom comes divine reward (including the possibility of special visions, a privileged place in heaven, and eventual sainthood), and in Endō’s novel at least, he yearns for the opportunity.

The reality that awaits Rodrigues and Garrpe is every bit as hellish as they had imagined, and then some, and Scorsese renders these scenes of torture — boiling water drizzled over exposed flesh, women wrapped in straw and set on fire — with the same unflinching detachment Pier Paolo Pasolini did the sadism of his infamous, incendiary final film, “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.” And yet, Rodrigues persists, consciously risking his safety in order to locate and serve the “Kakure Kirishitan” (or “hidden Christians”), who have been forced underground by these terrible punishments, inquiring as to Ferreira’s whereabouts with each fresh encounter.

The first Japanese the missionaries encounter is a wily ex-Christian named Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka), whose sneaky, social-outcast behavior suggests the way Toshiro Mifune might play the role of Gollum. Kichijiro has apostatized once already, and he will again before the movie ends, repeatedly betraying his faith and returning to beg forgiveness. Generally speaking, the casting of the Japanese characters favors actors who look like ghoulish exaggerations — like the rude caricatures found in Tintin comics, their teeth and fingernails smeared in grime. Compared with the humanely depicted natives of Roland Joffe’s more conventionally accessible/satisfying “The Mission,” the Japanese here come across as frighteningly “other,” almost animalistic. An unnerving inquisitor named Inoue (Issey Ogata) has a wheedling voice and faux-gracious manner that suggests the Japanese equivalent of Christoph Waltz’s Nazi colonel in “Inglourious Basterds.”

This style of representation marks a troubling, but no doubt deliberate choice on Scorsese’s part — especially compared with Garfield’s bare-chested, fabulously coiffed Rodrigues. Underscoring where our sympathies are expected to lie, the missionary outsiders all speak English (with wildly varied Portuguese accents), while the comparably heathen locals communicate in subtitled Japanese. Unlike Endō’s own big-screen adaptation of his novel, filmed by Japanese director Masahiro Shinoda in 1971, here, the local becomes the “other” — especially since the second half of the film concerns the two priests’ captivity and the sadistic attempts to convince them that Japan is a “swamp” where their religion “does not take root.”

Rodrigues is prepared for martyrdom, but not for the Japanese inquisitor’s more diabolical scheme, which involves torturing other Christians until he apostatizes. Worse still, Rodrigues watches as his cohort achieves the martyrdom he seeks (in a horrific beachfront scene that rings strangely hollow). Through it all, Rodrigues continues his appeal to God, praying for guidance, but receiving only … silence. Until he doesn’t.

The film’s last hour is by far its most challenging, as Scorsese goes out of his way to avoid some of the sweeping, free-associative techniques Malick has innovated for spiritual cinema, turning instead to the austere model of Bresson, Dreyer, and others that “Last Temptation” screenwriter Paul Schrader once described as “transcendental cinema,” in which powerless protagonists struggle against forces beyond their control. Whereas Endō’s novel allows omniscient access to Rodrigues’ deep internal conflict, the film leaves audiences at arm’s length, forcing us to scrutinize Garfield’s face for psychological insights that, for most, are too complex to expect us to interpret on our own.

For non-believers in particular, when Neeson resurfaces, his arguments, intended as the cruelest temptation, will instead sound perfectly logical. What Ferreira describes as “the most powerful act of love that has ever been performed” feels like a no-brainer, with no catharsis to ease the anti-climax. From the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition, when one considers all the cruelty that religion has exerted on the world, it seems almost unfair to focus on this footnote in world history, where priests were punished for their beliefs, the way early Christians were thrown to the lions.

And yet, these paradoxes surely aren’t lost on Scorsese, who has created a taxing film that will not only hold up to multiple viewings, but practically demands them. Here, as ever, he brings an arresting visual sense to the project, reteaming with production designer Dante Ferretti and DP Rodrigo Prieto to create evocative widescreen tableaux, shot on celluloid and shrouded in mist and shadow, while relaxing some of his flashier techniques (with its Peter Gabriel score and aggressive cutting, “Last Temptation” feels dated today in a way that the director clearly intends to avoid here). What little music “Silence” does contain is featured so faintly as to be almost subliminal, leaving ample room for engaged audiences to personalize the viewing experience, while frustrating those grasping for clues as to the precise emotional reaction Scorsese intends. That’s a risky move, as is the dramatic way he breaks the silence in the end. Those who put their faith in Scorsese may find it challenged as never before by his long-gestating passion project.

Film Review: Martin Scorsese's 'Silence'

Reviewed at Paramount studios, Nov. 30, 2016. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 161 MIN.


(U.S.-Taiwan-Mexico) A Paramount Pictures release of a SharpSword Films, AI Film presentation, in association with CatchPlay, IM Global, Verdi Prods., of an EFO Films, YLK, G&G, Sikelia, Fábricia de Cine production. Producers: Martin Scorsese, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Randall Emmett, Barbara De Fina, Gastón Pavlovich, Irwin Winkler, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, David Lee. Executive producers: Dale A. Brown, Matthew J. Malek, Manu Gargi, Tyler Zacharia, Ken Kao, Dan Kao, Niels Juul, Chad A. Verdi, Len Blavatnik, Aviv Giladi, Lawrence Bender, Stuart Ford. Co-producers: David Webb, Marianne Bower, Eriko Miyagawa, Diane Sabatini.


Director: Martin Scorsese. Screenplay: Scorsese, Jay Cocks, based on the novel by Shūsaku Endō. Camera (color, widescreen): Rodrigo Prieto. Editor: Thelma Schoonmaker.


Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano, Ciarán Hinds, Issey Ogata, Shinya Tsukamoto, Yoshi Oida, Yosukey Kubozuka, Liam Neeson. (English, Japanese, Latin dialogue)

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  1. Mike Beck says:

    “unresponsive deity” Only if your only looking for a response that you desire or deem appropriate. God does answer, just not in the way you like or want….!!!

  2. findingveracity says:

    This book and movie is about the power of faith to breathe hope into incredibly desperate people and and how they cope with an unresponsive deity. This is a timeless concept that is just as relevant today as it was in 17th century Japan. This work is a reminder that faith is itself a sort of feudal lord, chaining people to its tenets, real or imagined. In that sense, it becomes a divisive force in the world, pitting the religious beliefs of billions of people against each other and creating an endless abyss of conflict. Like this story, we are all left with an inevitable silence.

    • Trish says:

      What an odd thing to say. You are very articulate but sound like you’re repeating a parrot’s script. Everyone says that without having put any examination into it. One thing this movie captures well is the reality that the Christian core does not pit itself against others religions but for people. Ask my Iranians friends who’ve been jailed and tortured for their faith — something very alive inside of them that keeps them in an urgent place of wanting others to know this same wonder and love still drives them once freed. This is very unlike the division you speak of — more a unity. I myself have had the experience of being hated for my faith. Contempt dripped from this woman’s face and all I could feel was love for her. This is the true transformative heart of the faith — one where you become surprised at what is in your heart toward one who only wants your demise. This isn’t learned, but conveyed. It’s the difference between a religion and… Jesus. There’s no other way to put it. So lay down your pen and go into the silence and ask God if he’s real. That’s a challenge. You’re on the side lines with arms crossed. What a bore you must be.

  3. Skulb says:

    I might be dense but I had a very hard time noticing much in the way of spirituality in this movie. Because of the visual nature of the medium religion is predictably indicated with symbols and ritualistic behavior rather than explored in any real way. Christianity is crosses, pictures of Mary and empty rituals while Buddhism is chanting and clanking finger cymbals in the temple. I get that spirituality is hard to develop in movies, but let’s at least not pretend it’s there when it’s not. From a spiritual, theological or philosophical perspective, Silence is simply tedious beyond belief. Garfield, as the impossibly vague and unconvincing Jesuit Rodrigues, manages to convey stubbornness, pride, self indulgence and fear, but precious little else. Certainly not spirituality. To him it is all God’s test of him, regardless of the cost to others of his behavior. His salvation matters while that of others really doesn’t. Perhaps that is the real message here for all I know. At least only personally witnessing the torment of others makes him relent, sadly about an hour and a half after the audience has already fled the theater, fallen asleep or started playing Tetris on their mobile phone.
    As a historical piece about religious persecution and cultural conflict Silence shows more promise. But even this remains dull, slow, sporadic and unfocused. If it wasn’t for the cinematography and Ogata’s stellar performance as the Inquisitor I would be hard pressed to find a single reason to seriously recommend this movie. It looks good, but if you want to learn about history, buy a book. if you want to learn about spirituality, explore it yourself. Or if that’s too slow, read some Dostojevski. Martin Scorcese will bore you stiff but he will not teach you a thing about spirituality.

  4. John Koss says:

    Unfortunately for many people they want ‘film’ to entertain and lighten their dreary, repetitive and mundane lives. This film is a great if not revealing truth of the human being ‘tested’ as to how far his ‘faith’ will sustain and nourish his very essence. Pity the individual that does not see the parallels of today. People are dying,suffering and hunted for their faith. The book is even more revealing. I would have hoped that more theatre goers would see this but it appears they’d rather see macabre violence and psych-promoted trash. (Split) Understandable.

  5. Scorsese hasn’t made a good film since Taxi Driver – he’s on the short list of the most overrated directors in the history of film. Silence was dreary self indulgent exercise of the worst sort – the aging Catholic who feels the need to share his internal struggle with the the entire movie going public. He also manages to take a big, steaming crap on Buddhism – I would have expected the maker of Kundun to be at least a bit more even handed with the material.

  6. Wakeme Whenitsover says:

    Watching this movie was torture. I only watched the whole thing because it was by Scorcese, otherwise I could have turned it off twenty minutes in and never regretted losing nearly three hours of my life to this masturbatory tribute to Kurosawa. – Different strokes for different folks I guess.

  7. bliz says:

    too abstruse for the great many moviegoers who such an expensive undertaking hopes to attract (which no doubt explains why Scorsese was compelled to cast “The Amazing Spider-Man” actor Andrew Garfield and two “Star Wars” stars).”

    im sure thats how martin scorcese decides casting choices..u really know his style well

  8. vehuw says:

    unto I looked at the paycheck saying $9861 , I accept that my father in law was like they say truly bringing in money in their spare time online. . there best friend haze done this less than 8 months and a short time ago replayed the dept on there apartment and blurt a great Citroen CV . see at this site

  9. I have seen the film twice, and it is wonderfully made. It is not an easy book to adapt into a film, but Martin Scorsese did it well. I have also just written and published a novel about faith in exactly the same genre and time period in 17th Century Japan. The novel is called ‘Hidden by the Leaves’. I would be delighted to hear your opinion! S D L Curry

  10. Stuart Edwards says:

    I would have finished the film at the point where the priest has his foot over the image. Will he won’t he tread oni it? An excellennt film which asks many questions of those who believe and of those who don’t would be the stronger for maintaining the silence when the questions remain unanswered. The actual finale unfortunately answered these unanswerable questions even if a crucifix was hidden in his hands in the Buddhist coffin and funeral rites.

    • Hi Stuart, It would be great to know your opinion of my new book, ‘Hidden by the Leaves’. It covers faith in the exact same genre and time period, albeit with a much faster pace and more action. It would be great to hear your thoughts on it. Kind regards, S D L Curry

  11. v says:

    This review was “punishingly long and frequently boring”, to be honest. Since the beginning your review is totally one sided.
    Also, you might wanna take some time to study about Portugal and Spain and jesuits.
    Do you even know what a jesuit is?

    “From the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition, when one considers all the cruelty that religion has exerted on the world, it seems almost unfair to focus on this footnote in world history, where priests were punished for their beliefs, the way early Christians were thrown to the lions.”

    How can an ignorant american person like you say this, not knowing the reasons why this happened and also say this is a footnote?
    Have you learnt or read about this in school, or is this your common knowledge with a bit of wikipedia?

    Just because the world doesn’t revolve around america, doesn’t mean it’s a footnote…

    Honestly as a “chief film critic” you should be ashamed by your poor knowledge about this film you reviewed.

  12. zavije says:

    my gf just got an awesome yellow Mercedes E-Class Sedan only from part time off a
    computer. visit here………….

  13. Marian Mansilla says:

    The name of the other Jesuit in the film was Father Francisco Garupe, not Garrpe.

  14. jonas says:

    SUCK ON A PICKLE!!1 @Variety, Silence is an astonishing movie!!!

  15. Brando says:

    I think I noticed right away is no reviewer mentions that it is BUDDHISTS who are torturing and killing INNOCENT people,more than 3,000 Japanese Christian,according to historians. The lack of signaling the fact shows the reviewers miss the obvious,fail to condemn the evil Buddhism commited in Japan.

    • Hello Brando, The primary force behind the Christian persecutions was the Shogun and his regime. He is the one who issued the Anti-Christian edits, etc. However, you are correct, the Buddhists were generally mortal enemies of Christians in Japan at the time. And as you point out, Buddhists did indeed carry out persecutions of Christians along with samurai and other members of the Shogun’s regime. Much of this is covered in my new novel, ‘Hidden by the Leaves’. I would be delighted if you would give me your opinion! Kind regards, S D L Curry

    • jsm1963 says:

      I’ll look for that when someone does a film about all the atrocities committed by religions. Not for a film that tells a story about one part of history.

  16. A powerful, harrowing, provocative film. Don’t miss the dedication at the end which helps put the ending into larger perspective.

    • Hi Sheridan, I agree with your review. It is a very interesting time period. It is also interesting, uplifting, and inspiring that Christianity survived in Japan for hundreds of years in secret. It really gets to the heart of faith! I would be enthused if you could review my new novel, ‘Hidden by the Leaves’, covering the same genre and time period. Best wishes, S D L Curry

  17. Writing stuff says:

    “From the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition, when one considers all the cruelty that religion has exerted on the world, it seems almost unfair to focus on this footnote in world history, where priests were punished for their beliefs, the way early Christians were thrown to the lions.”

    Aha. You say “religion”, but only mean Catholic Christianity.

    Christians – bad, everyone else: Good.

    The crusades the crusaders were crusading in were Christian before the Muslims invaded it. The Inquistion was a reaction to the Muslim invasion of Spain before and costed the lives of around … 3000 people ( – “lthough records are incomplete, about 150,000 persons were charged with crimes by the Inquisition and about 3,000 were executed.)

    9/11 alone caused the same amount of deaths as the whole Spanish Inqusition did in 400 years! Think about it.

    Dishonest articles like these is one of the reasons Trump won.

  18. A journalist does not defend the work, even a film review. Explain the director’s intentions and describe the result. Allow commenters their crticism without rejoinder. The director lets go of his baby to walk on its own; so should the reviewer.

  19. begixe says:

    like John implied I am startled that you can earn $5533 in 1 month on the internet . hop over
    to this site………….

  20. Citizen Kane says:

    A clone of the 1991 film “Black Robe” ?

  21. Sherry Hodges says:

    Thanks for the heads up. Sounds like one of the worlds most boring films.

  22. not relevant says:

    I’m pleasantly surprised the reviewer took the movie seriously, considered how the marching orders are to mock any kind of work that doesn’t vilify Christianity and Christians.

  23. DRAVES says:

    It seems like the critic here is bending over backwards to politely and diplomatically say that this is not a good movie. Putting it in “the prism of films about faith” and flat out saying that it is “frequently boring” (an accurate statement) but then trying to pose its dullness and difficult to watch nature as a “challenge” that demands “multiple viewings” just seems disingenuous. The movie is dull and bad, and stating that watching it is a challenging experience as if that’s a virtue is just inaccurate.

    • Hi Draves, My recently-released novel covers similar material during the same time period. Whereas the novel ‘Silence’ is quite slow and contemplative, my novel, ‘Hidden by the Leaves’ is very fast-paced and full of action. Might you consider reading and reviewing it? Best regards, S D L Curry

    • jfafilms says:

      I’ll bet you 10-1 you haven’t seen it!!! It’s dull & badif your a 10 year old boy brought up on a steady diet of transformers & Rogue 1 or whatever the new SW chapter is called. It’s bad & dulll like Dryer & Bresson are bad & dull. It’s bad & dull if you’re a philistine who hadn’t seen a film w subtitles that came out before 1990. It’s bad & dull like Tarkovsky’s Stalker & Andre Rublev are bad & dull. Someone’s brain is bad & dull if they can’t find more descriptive adjectives to apply to a complex, profound, and deep piece of work like Silence! What’s bad & dull are the senses of most film goers today!

  24. SL2 says:

    I enjoyed this review and am interested in seeing the film, but calling this episode of priests being punished for their beliefs a “footnote in world history” makes the reviewer appear unaware of current and historical events outside the US and Europe. Right now Christians (along with Muslims, the Yazadis, and others) in the middle east are being tortured in similar ways to those depicted in the film. This is happened throughout history right up until today — it is no footnote. And alongside the “cruelty that religion has exerted on the world,” we shouldn’t forget the good and the beauty, from healthcare clinics to great works of art. I agree that the Crusades and Inquisition were inexcusable. I see no representation of Jesus, who “came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” in such events, or in any event in which Christians back cruelty and hate in an effort to claim personal or political power.

    But while watching this film, let’s not forget that this isn’t just history. This cruelty is happening around the world right now. Christians and others are still being burned alive, drowned, and tortured for their faith today. For that matter, animals are also being treated thus: in the dog meat trade in China, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and other countries, dogs and some cats are slowly torched with blow torches as they scream, boiled alive as they cry for help, skinned alive, beaten, drowned, have limbs cut off, etc due to the belief that agony and terror improve their flavor.

    Let’s not treat this film as a footnote in history, but as a call to action against current cruelty.

    • Hello SL2, I agree with much of your commentary. Persecutions should not be allowed during any time period, particularly now, when we are allegedly more enlightened. I would be delighted if you read and reviewed my novel, ‘Hidden by the Leaves’, which covers the exact same genre and time period as ‘Silence’. It is my hope that you will appreciate the story, and the message… S D L Curry

  25. tlsnyder42 says:

    Unsatisfying review. In reality, Muslims had brutally persecuted Christians and invaded Christian lands for 400 years before the Crusades, which were a defensive action. And, the Inquisition lasted for several hundred years and often acquitted victims. It was more brutal in Spain because the royals leading the government there were autocratic totalitarians. Finally, atheists and socialists murdered more people in 70 short years in the 20th Century than all religions combined. And, more than half of all “religious wars” have involved Islam.

    • jsm1963 says:

      Okay, that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with this film or this little bit of history.

      • not relevant says:

        an exaggerated reaction to a single line in the review. I feel like other than that particular line, which is little more than lip service, the tone of the review was quite reverential and polite when the zeitgeist push is to be the opposite.

  26. tomdawkes says:

    The word ‘cohort’ is regularly misused: it does NOT mean companion — it means a group. Why not use ‘companion’ or ‘colleague’ to refer to Garrpe?

    • Marian Mansilla says:

      His name throughout the subtitles in the film was Father Francisco Garupe, a Portuguese name. Garrpe is a typo.

  27. Daniel S. says:

    The comment about the cruelty that religion has brought upon the world making the martyrdom of the Catholics presented in this film unfair is in and of itself unfair. Would you ignore the cruelty inflicted upon these people just because of the crimes committed by those in the same faith? That’s like ignoring hatred incited against those that practice Islam because of September Eleventh. Shame on you for that.

    • Greg says:

      Except in the case of religion, especially the “religions of the book” cruelty is often a mandate to the faithful. The cruelty religious people have inflicted upon the world has been done because of their religion, not in spite of it.

      • Greg says:

        Did you also forget that the Old Testament is canon in Christianity? And before you completely let the NT off the hook, let’s not forget verses like Matthew 5:17-19 and pretty much the entire Book of Revelation (as graphically horrible as anything in the OT).

        Regarding your non-sequitur about communism, I think the lesson there is that religion, quasi-religion, and dogma in general have inflicted enough horrors on the Earth and it’s high time we leave them behind. Wouldn’t you agree?

      • not relevant says:

        I’ve apparently forgotten the part in the new testament that calls for violence upon others. I do know that the communist atheist regime in the USSR required genocide in order to bring forth the “new man”

      • Greg says:

        Daniel S. – You’re right about Christians but unfortunately the results are a mixed bag in the Muslim world. Pew Research polls have found support for horrifying actions including the killing of apostates, blasphemers, and in “defense of the religion” whatever that means. The percentages vary depending on the country, but even among Muslims in the West the numbers in support are not insignificant.

        If these polls were done 500 years ago in Europe we would find the same or worse results among Christians. This suggests the problem is not race or ethnicity but rather is the consequence of religious dogma (i.e., bad ideas). Your use of the term “bigotry” is inappropriate – bigotry applies to people and not ideas.

      • Daniel S. says:

        If you ask any Christian worth their salt, they would not condone the actions that supposed Christians have taken throughout history, they instead would be horrified by it, as the same with Muslims and other religious people. You are generalizing religious people to an almost bigoted degree. Please see that it is not so.

      • Greg says:

        I haven’t excused any cruelty, and bad people have existed since the beginning. But religion (or any quasi-religious dogma) is unique in its ability to get good people to visit cruelty on others that they otherwise had no grievance against.

      • John G. says:

        Seriously? What a thing to say in a Variety comments section. Please read about what’s happening to the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, at the hands of atheists and Buddhists. This kind of cruelty against other humans is not excused because the Ottoman Empire or Hernan Cortes once existed.

  28. John G. says:

    “there have been many great films about Christian faith — though not nearly enough”

    “it seems almost unfair to focus on this footnote in world history”

    I find these two statements somewhat contradictory; would you prefer that more new films focus on the Christian point of view, or fewer? I would also take serious issue with your choice of words here. Only through the most Western perspective could the Tokugawa shogunate and the Edo period be considered a historical footnote, or less important to the contemporary world than something as over-discussed and relatively uninfluential as the Spanish Inquisition.

    • Hi John, I agree with much of your commentary. Similar to the novel ‘Silence’, I have written a novel that covers the exact same genre and time period. I hope that I have balanced “East versus West” well in the novel, but would appreciate your feedback. My novel is called ‘Hidden by the Leave’. Thanks, S D L Curry

  29. Dee says:

    How the hell can ANY one take seriously a review that reduces Liam Neeson’s acting career to being one of “two ‘Star Wars’ stars”? Neeson has done FINE work on stage and in film — “Schindler’s List” not least among those films — yet “film critic” Debruge can’t be bothered with either knowing that or mentioning it. Either way, he’s no better than the “journalists” and “bloggers” who do what they do (write horribly, basically) for free, as long as someone on the internet publishes it.

    • Peter Debruge says:

      I hope the reason you can take this review seriously is that here at Variety, we respect our readership enough assume you already know all the great performances Liam Neeson and the other cast members have given. Variety is a trade paper, targeted toward an industry audience, and the line that annoyed you was intended to explain a strategy by which Scorsese was finally able to get this passion project made: Even a director of his stature was no doubt presented with a list of actors he could cast in the three lead (white) roles, and given how these things work in the biz today, I suspect it was only possible to make the film by choosing stars who had appeared in massive franchises. The most relevant credit of Neeson’s career would be “The Mission,” and yet, it’s surely his status as the star of “Taken” that explains how prominently he features in the marketing, etc. (he’s barely in the movie, though what part he does play has an enormous impact).

      • Hi Peter, I agree with you and respect your work. Writing is generally not easy, particularly when the subject matter is “sensitive” like religion. Perhaps we could all simply respect one another and acknowledge that one way is not necessarily better than another way; it is simply a different way. I would be delighted if you could read and review my new novel, ‘Hidden by the Leaves’, which is basically the closest thing on the market to Shusaku Endo’s novel, ‘Silence’. It would be my hope that you feel I have treated the history fairly, yet presented it in a more contemporary and action-oriented manner. I would argue that if God was “silent” in ‘Silence’, He speaks loudly through miracles in ‘Hidden by the Leaves’. With kind regards, S D L Curry

      • LOL says:

        You tell ’em, Debruge! Don’t take no crap from no-one, especially from us troglodyte non-journalists.

  30. Steve Barr says:

    After reading this and other reviews it just makes me want to watch The Mission again.

    • jfafilms says:

      That’s sorta like saying after reading all these reviews of Heat, makes me wanna go see Bev Hills Cop again:) lol Both are about cops and robbers and set in LA, but that’s about it.

      A bit of an over statement sure, but Silence is a much better, deeper more sophisticated film.

  31. jfafilms says:

    As I watched the film I too was thought of films like Tree of Life (for me infinitely more boring and rudderless than Silence) and Apocalypse Now. Unlike DeBruge I never found any of it ‘boring’. (He must be shell shocked from being forced to watch so much mediocrity on a weekly basis.)

    Not only the imagery was breathtaking, but I’d say the reviewer missed some of the subtext that was particularly relevant given the US foreign policy the last decade. Yes, a clear visual contrast exists between the Japanese peasants and Euro Priests. But, clearly the problems of Imperialism and jamming ones beliefs down another’s throat are brought to the forefront. One could think of the current clash between Western ideology & Islam. In addition, what Mr. DeBruge fails to note is while the Japanese may not look too hot, they’re presented as a more empathetic lot. After all, one doesn’t have to be a history major to know that Spanish & Portugese were burning people at the stake for the most groundless of accusations at the very same time. There was not apostatizing and go back to the village, you were burned w nary a trial.

    Finally, the film IMHO is infinitely better than what was presented above. If WoWS was a comeback of sorts, this puts the exclamation on it. I think it’s even better and will stand the test of time. This is another example of a great film being misread upon initial release. While it’s not the level of a Raging Bull, go back and read some of those initial reviews. It was not revered out of the gate. Neither was Apocalypse Now.

  32. Bill B. says:

    I sorta doubt that this is going to bring in the crowds.

    • jsm1963 says:

      I don’t think Paramount ever expected this to challenge Rogue One at the box office. This is a prestige film. Not terribly expensive to make. Should break even.

  33. Dunstan says:

    I’d be extremely curious to see the Japanese version of this film mentioned in the review.

    • i was going to complain that the review spoils what happens to the Adam Driver character but that was already spoiled in the trailer

      • Peter Debruge says:

        I try to be sensitive to spoilers, but in this case, I don’t think the movie adequately explains the subtext of this scene (at least vis à vis its role in the novel), which is why I weighed in on Garrpe’s fate — while wording it in such a way that only those who have already seen the film should fully understand what I’m talking about.

  34. Eric says:

    When legacy directors reguritate philosophical fumes not otherwise spent filling their fanciful entombed egos.

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