Sunday, January 22, 2017

Cinema Clash: SILENCE

Welcome to the first installment of our brand new segment...CINEMA CLASH, where two of our writers will battle to the death (not really) in defense of their position, one for and one against, of a particular film.  Today, Jonathan and James will be debating the pros and cons of Martin Scorsese's latest endeavor...SILENCE. Enjoy!!

Before we get started, here is the official synopsis and trailer for Silence:

Silence follows the story of two Catholic missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) - at a time when Catholicism was outlawed and their presence forbidden.

Now on to the battle!


Jonathan (For):

“Do you have the right to make them suffer?” - Father Ferrera

During my Junior year at a small Christian college, I took a class that centered on reading some of the greatest overlooked literary masterpieces. Silence by Shusaku Endo was the final book of the semester. My professor, who always seemed to enjoy sending us blindly into mind-blowing texts, repeatedly warned us to read Silence early because it would destroy us. Few of us heeded his advice -- I certainly didn’t. I remember stepping into class completely numb after finishing the last page of Endo’s short book, sitting down beside my classmates, and looking around at the similarly broken faces of my fellow English majors. Very few books have utterly shaken me to the core as deeply as Silence.

I felt a similar feeling of emptiness after finishing Martin Scorsese’s cinematic masterpiece. It is truly difficult to definitively quantify how and why Silence works so well on screen under the passionate direction of one of Hollywood’s greatest. No scene ever feels rushed. No performance ever feels neglected. Instead, it was all woven together into a stunning philosophical look at the nature of faith. The relationships between characters, specifically between Andrew Garfield’s Rodrigues and the persecuted church of Japan, stand as an unblinking testimony to the beauty of faith and the horrors of loss. The ambiguous story-telling leaves heavy questions ringing in the ears of the viewing audience, refusing to provide any form of relief. Instead, it simply asks questions that will reverberate through your heart for days, weeks, and months after leaving the theater.

There are no easy answers in faith. There are no easy answers when faith faces adversity. There are no easy answers in Silence. That is the beauty of this amazing film.

James (Against):

I think that the best way to explain my thoughts on Silence are to start by explaining a little bit of my history with legendary director Martin Scorsese. Whilst I think that The Departed is a top-notch film and find Hugo to be a really well told tale, I have rarely had the pleasure of enjoying his films. That’s just how it is. From the 1970s right down to his latest efforts I have always had a really hard time with Scorsese and have grown to actively dislike some of his films, whilst still finding something to mine and appreciate in them.  With Silence, I found it to be a religious slog-fest that made me angry in its self importance and complete nonsensical length.

Don't get me wrong, there is much to be appreciated in this film. Silence has a great first half, the drama with the characters is alive and touching, the portrayal of 17th century Japan is raw and unnerving, the atmosphere that is captured is genuinely unsettling. The point of view that is established in this first half is not a religiously inflated one. What is moving about it is how we witness the hatred that man can be brought to and the contrast with the innocence in the Japanese farmers is ever so captivating and Garfield and Driver bring home stunning performance work.

Where my criticisms lie is how the film resolves, when the last hour comes, which shatters to pieces everything achieved before, changing perspective and escalating in melodramatic, masturbatory, religious bullsh*t with an ending that proves its aimlessness and disgusting self-importance. The drama just turns off, it evolves in a discussion that has no heads nor tails, to the point that I felt like it was contradicting itself at times. The ending is abysmal, ridiculous and trivial in a way that made me stand up and leave the cinema angrily without even waiting for the first credits which I always do.



In the end, I feel like we are encountering a fairly standard issue that crops up often in Silence’s criticisms. In James’ opening statements, he refers to Silence as a contradictory tale that ambles its way through a self-aggrandizing story. This does, in fact, make sense to me and stands as an understandable criticism. I would argue, however, that the beauty of Silence lies in its ambiguity. The film begins to amble and “lose focus,” some would say, because the longer Rodrigues pushes through Japan and faces increased persecution, life to him begins to lose clarity. You, the viewer, are forced into the same position of tense uncertainty as your protagonist. As the film draws to a close, you are left with the same burning questions of faith and infidelity as the men and women onscreen.

Silence is, without a doubt, a philosophically heavy film that is as much a treatise on apostasy as it is a dramatic film. Scorsese does not make light films, exemplified by his most recent directorial success, The Wolf of Wall Street, a commentary piece on excess that drives home its theme through cinematic excess. Similarly, Silence’s themes of loss, pain, and hopelessness are driven home by a style that fills audiences with dread and drains them of their positivity, leaving you feeling empty at the film’s close, struggling to find any defined answers. Perhaps not everyone will be able to click with its themes, for it is not a movie meant to be universally appealing, by any means. This is a passion project from a brilliant director that succeeds masterfully at what it sets out to accomplish.


I think that Jonathan makes some very, very valid points in his argument. The idea of structure reflecting theme is something I had not thought of and comes as welcome reflection. Still, it does not sway my view of the last half of the film, of which I am deeply convinced. 

Look, the bottom line is that this film goes deeply into religious themes and with that comes the baggage that each person brings with him or her self. I am personally strongly anti religious and that is why I found the whole debate in the last portion of the film almost pathetic, self important in a way that really disgusted me.

Yet, I still think that is due to the film's fault, and not because of my personal belief, as motion pictures that challenge me and present to me different ideals have always been welcome if the debate is established on good terms. You have to look no further than this year's HBO series The Young Pope which I loved. It showed that religious debate can be handled with subtlety, character and emotion. Silence does the complete opposite, it takes the discussion to levels of absurdity that I could not relate to and found actually insulting at times in their banality.



“All film is subjective.” That is a mantra that we repeat to ourselves again and again almost like some strange form of penance whenever we find ourselves loving or hating a work of art. On top of that, philosophy and religion are so intrinsically tied to life experience and so dependant on personal compulsion that here, in Silence, we face a film firmly entrenched in the troubling realm of subjectivity. James is completely correct that Silence tackles religious themes in a unique way, telling its story in a startlingly distinct voice. That style and technique can land poorly for some and perfectly for others and I, by no means, have any desire to put my individual experience with a film on someone else’s very different experience.

What I will say, in closing, is this: The themes of Silence may be religious in root and in presentation. However, the question of what we are willing or able to sacrifice for others is a deeply human one. The crux of Silence is the question “Is it right to deny what I hold dear for the sake of others?” We all understand the feeling of living a lie. Most people have gone long periods of time losing view of who they really are because of the people around them. In the end, Rodrigues is faced with the choice between who he is and who he must be to save others. In the end, no real peace comes from either decision. In the end, life is still painful and God is still silent in the worst possible moments. Amidst all of the philosophical speculation and theological jargon, Silence poses a quiet, simple question to the audience that, if received, will take root in your mind and rob you of your sleep: “What will you give up for love?”


I recognize what Jonathan is saying, beautiful words, still I have not much to add to what I already said: I find that what Silence lacks is exactly the humanistic component that would make it relatable when the drama turns to a religious metaphysical debate. The problem is that for me it lost it and I was turned off by all that came with it, it did not affect me, and instead turned me off both emotionally and mentally.

Well, there you have it folks!  Two completely different takes on the same film.  Who do you think won this debate?  And what did you think of the format of this new segment?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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