23/01/2017

Silence - Subjectivity

Quick Thoughts: Silence

Two Christian missionaries search through Japanese villages for their lost mentor whilst evading those who impose regimes outlawing Christianity.


Silence, being a Scorsese film, is a picture I daren't miss. And with Scorsese of course comes an assured level of quality. We see this in the composition, cinematography, editing and camera movement of Silence. On a technical level, this is an astounding picture, one that is an easy and compelling watch despite the slow burn and 150+ minute long run-time. There are two variables to this film that aren't so fine tuned, however. Firstly, the acting. Especially when it comes to the minor, supporting characters, there are many sketchy moments of performance that sully the tone of this rather serious story. The second element to this film that won't be considered and seen in a universally accepting way is certainly the narrative. This is a film that questions religion and faith from the perspective of an almost overwhelmingly self-assured Christian missionary. In such, the facade of this narrative is one that advocates Christian teachings and the importance of Christian faith. And when this comes to questioning this philosophy, there is a constant undertone of a lost debate. What I mean to suggest here is that despite any word of opposition put to Garfield's Rodrigues, there is a concrete tone to this movie that implies he is right, that his dogmas and convictions are truth. We see this in that way scenes are given arcs to support his final point, the way he is painted as a wronged hero of great moral strength and the general arc of the narrative - of which I won't spoil or go into major detail on.

This is so polarising because there is no true debate or questioning in this movie, not on faith, not on if any of the Christian priests are right, wrong or somewhere in between. In such, all debate raised seems contrived or is eventually reduced to mere conflict by the tone and end of this narrative. This doesn't mean that the film is wrong in advocating Christianity via following Rodrigues as a character. Much rather, this is a weakly structured film. This is because what Rodrigues actually believes is never truly conveyed through dialogue, debate, story or cinematic language. This is what makes his dogmatism so hard to swallow; he constantly says he is devout, that he has faith in the Christian God, and by proxy is somehow right, but never explains just what he believes. This often leaves his heroic actions as acts of humanity and moral conviction - thus something somewhat disconnected from his religious beliefs. But, what is worse, every 'challenge' Rodrigues faces in this film as he watches people suffer is left entirely unjustified because of his ambiguous belief system. This means that if you yourself are a devout Christian, you may see why Rodrigues may stand by and watch Christians be tortured instead of apostatise. However, in empathising with him, you are bringing yourself into the movie and not seeing Rodrigues as a character unto himself. This is a major weakness in a film that is essentially about a moral debate. To not state Rodrigues' side leaves all of his actions as rather selfish and unexplainable.

This is the part of the movie that really bothered me as there are great moments of debate in which Rodrigues and all he represents is questioned by his Japanese captors, but, without an in-depth exploration of Christianity as more than symbols and words, this is reduced to filler. Moreover, the lack of characterisation and strengthening of Rodrigues' position as a Christian throughout this film gives rise to a tone of critique that suggests that Scorsese means to condemn or object to the stance Christian missionaries took in this period of history because of how unjustified and nonsensical their actions are conveyed to be. But, with the constant return to a hero's or martyr's arc throughout the story, we are given the sense that there is an appraisal of Rodrigues and the Christian missionaries. All of this is very conflicting, leaving the film, under theocratic themes and debate, a confounding one at best, a weak one at worst.

What all of this suggests is that this will be a very subjective viewing experience for all going in - as is an inevitability when dealing with subjects such as religion. The only way I could then access this movie, as you may, is to look at this narrative as a fight between two groups or tribes. On one side we have the Japanese who oppose Christianity and want to stop its spreading, and on the other we have the Christian missionaries that want to see it flourish in Japan. With these groups comes rules, and if you want to be apart of the club, you have to abide by them. Looking at the film from this respect, in a Lanthimos-esque manner, really opens the story up and makes it accessible to me. In such, the movie becomes one not too different from, as hinted at, Dogtooth or The Lobster:

  

However, this merely contributed to my personal viewing of the film and is never really supported by the design of the narrative. In such, Scorsese probably didn't make a film to be seen like the film's mentioned. So, the point still stands that this is a film that will lead to a very subjective take-aways from all who watch it. Whilst the technical sides of this film cannot be questioned, the narrative reading is going to differ so much between people. This means I can only leave you with my thoughts after asking you: what do you think, how do you feel about Silence?

Before you go, however, if you've not seen Dogtooth or The Lobster, be sure to check them out. And, if you have, check out these Thoughts On: essays here:

  






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