My God, but sitting through this was a trial and a half! And not only because it's a whopping two hours and forty minutes long. If it hadn't had director Martin Scorsese's name attached I wouldn't have bothered, particularly as I was aware of it being gruelling viewing with more than a few scenes of torture and execution.
As I advance even further into old age, despite probably having seen more violence on film than most, the experience hasn't inured me against such scenes. In fact quite the reverse in that I find depictions of suffering increasingly upsetting. Watching the news on TV nowadays, for instance, I've always got to have the remote in my hand ready to switch channels when acts of violence or their aftermath are shown. It's only in about the last twenty years that I started doing this and such switching is getting increasingly frequent.
But with no such remote available in the cinema, I was reduced to having to look away at difficult moments, usually at my watch to find out how much longer there was to have to bear it.
The idea of filming this novel has been gestating in Scorsese's mind for close on two decades, and the story reflects his devout(?) Roman Catholicism, dealing as it does with persecution and martyrdom (in 17th century Japan) for the Christian faith. For most of the time I'd have guessed that the film would have received enthusiastic Papal approbation and even a blessing. Then something happens which made me think "Well, perhaps not." But right at the very final shot something is shown which, irritatingly for me, undercuts the story as it's just been played out. So, perhaps Papa Frankie may be smiling after all!
Two Portuguese priests (Andrew Garfield and Andrew Driver) hear via a letter from another priest - their one-time teacher now in Japan (Liam Neeson, who appears only in the first few minutes then not again until the film's final segment) - of horrors taking place in that country where Christianity is being tried to be stamped out - Christians being driven out to live in the wild and in caves, and being put to death if they are caught and refuse to renounce their religion, which they symbolically demonstrate by putting a foot on an etched image of Christ, which if they do they can then go free. Of course, many can't do it and are therefore condemned to execution - a variety of means employed, sometimes quick, sometimes lingering. Priests are particular targets, they even requesting to be tortured to show the steadfastness of their faith.
The two Portuguese clerics are not even sure if the Neeson character has survived, but with the intention of not only seeking him out but also to be missionaries, they sneak themselves into the country.
I couldn't work out how communication worked between the Portuguese priests and the otherwise entirely Japanese characters in the cast. Of course in this film English is used by everyone (by the Japanese sometimes haltingly), which is perfectly acceptable within the conceit of the film. But how do the priests manage to hear the confessions of the hiding or imprisoned peasants? Surely the priests wouldn't be fluent in the Japanese language - and no one believes for one second the absurdity of the Japanese speaking Portuguese.
But we've just got to accept that somehow communication between the races was achieved,
And so to the violence. Well, everyone knows that Scorsese is a master of the violent film, possibly the current exemplar, along with Tarantino. But in the former's gangster films the violence is sporadic, usually sudden and, though it can be bloody, it's generally over in seconds. Not so here. It's not only drawn out but it appears throughout the film in various guises and not just confined to climaxes, if there are any of those at all. So that makes this film in this respect harder to watch than some others of this nature.
Incidentally, I didn't have to try too hard to remind myself that historically around this time (and later) Christians have been at least as barbaric to other faiths and to each other. In fact, it hardly needs saying that most religions have a poor track record of tolerance towards those who don't share their own view of what they regard as the inviolable 'truth'.
In arriving at a rating which this film would justify I'm torn between pulling it down because of my considerable discomfort at the torture and execution scenes, while recognising that the film is an accomplishment. Photography is superb throughout. Editing perhaps less so, betraying the occasional religioso-preachy longueur which came very close to being boring. But after watching this I now crave for something lighter. (Btw: For some reason, Mel Gibson's 'Hacksaw Ridge', which was due to start screening by now has been put back two weeks, while 'La La Land' has been brought forward by a few days.)
It's a 'La La Land' that's exactly what I need to counter the heavy and depressing effect of 'Silence', so I'm now looking forward to that as an antidote even more than I was.
But as for the film 'Silence' itself, although I'm stretching my score upwards a bit, in terms of a mix of 'enjoyment' (very little) and 'achievement' (quite high) I'll settle on awarding it a...........4.
38 minutes ago