by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
Rob: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: And I’m Adam Riske. I’ll just get it out of the way: Silence is great.
Rob: Based on the novel by Shūsaku Endō, it’s the story of two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who smuggle their way into 17th century Japan in order to rescue their teacher (Liam Neeson)…
Adam: “Mentor” is more appropriate.
Rob: …who disappeared some years before. They discover a culture in which Catholics face daily and life-threatening persecution and find that their own faith is not as firm as they once believed.
Adam: In this clip, Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) are in hiding, unable to go out in daylight for fear of being discovered by Japan’s military dictators, who are apprehending all priests and their Christian followers. But the two priests grow restless and frustrated as they are unable to complete their mission of locating their mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira. Finally, they decide to go out into the open, if only briefly. This scene is a fine example of the sense of danger and fear that fills Scorsese’s latest.
Rob: It’s a frightening scene that’s representative of the film’s first act, which is encased almost entirely in fog and obscured by brush. It’s perfect symbolism that serves a number of functions.
Adam: I’m glad you mentioned that. The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto perfectly captures the time and place that is later described in the film as a swamp where nothing can grow. It’s a country with an enormous disparity between the haves and the have-nots, with religion being just as much political and socioeconomic as it is about the tenets of Christianity or Buddhism. This movie made me think about religion more than I have in a very long time. It’s not just affirmation for a devout audience, but rather challenges their devotion on a human and philosophical level. Is your faith worth your own suffering? And more significantly, is it important enough for you to allow others suffer for it?
Rob: As both a lapsed Catholic and a huge Scorsese fan, I was completely at home in the world he was building here. Catholicism is so much about demonstrating your devotion through suffering, more or less apologizing for even having been born.
Adam: I’m Jewish and I’ve never done any of that.
Rob: Are you done? I’m talking.
Adam: Latkes with sour cream, never applesauce.
Adam: You’re 100 percent right about the topic of ego. I found it fascinating how both the Buddhists and the Christians thought they were the ones who were right, not surprisingly, but when the priests begin using words like they have the “truth” then you open up a whole other can of worms. While not sympathetic, necessarily (they do persecute the Christians with violence), the Japanese inquisitors do have a point: who are you to tell me I’m wrong? Why are you trying to take away my country’s identity? The Christian priests in the movie will listen to this dialogue but aren’t really hearing it. They are so steadfast in their belief that they are unbending, and so are the Japanese. Unintended or not, it struck me as a statement on today’s climate (more political than religion), where each side is so firmly in their position that trying to convince the other side is like talking to a brick wall.
Rob: Including Garfield’s character, Rodrigues. I loved that our protagonist was a giant dickhead half the time, that he was so committed to his ideology for the sake of ideology, not even evidence or real “truth.” There’s a moment when he tells one of the peasants that his faith gives him strength. The peasant says (I’m paraphrasing), “I have love. Is that the same as faith?” Rodrigues says, “Yes, I think it is.” It’s so much about how subjective and incidental our own experiences with religion are, which is ironic considering how hard and fast the ideology tends to be. Life and death are played with in such absolute terms, and the religious oppression at work is so heartbreaking that Rodrigues is constantly reassessing his commitment to his core beliefs.
Adam: It really is heartbreaking. By the end instead of thinking “why would Rodrigues ever suffer and makes others suffer as long as he does?” the film gives us a moment that makes it absolutely clear why this was such an ordeal for him. I wish I could talk more about it because it’s a masterstroke type of moment that the movie builds to.
Rob: I won’t spoil it either, but it’s the only acceptable payoff for nearly three hours of this kind of emotional torment. Like you said, the title became more and more resonant as things went on. Speaking of which, did you feel the length at all? I found that the film’s structure made it so that I didn’t. It has three very distinct acts, and I think that helped me avoid complacency.
Adam: It did feel long, but not in a negative way. A movie like this should be long and draining. I don’t think having this movie be two hours would have been enough. In, say, The Passion of the Christ, the abuse is physical and for the audience emotional, we get that quickly, but here it’s much more a psychological suffering and that takes time to draw out. I love movies like Silence, where you feel like you’ve been through an experience of great strain. If any cuts could be made, I think they would be of Adam Driver’s character.
Rob: That or give him more screen time and make it more of a two-hander for the first hour and a half or so. Then again, maybe Scorsese knew that the character was just there to plant the seed of doubt? It’s hard to tell. Maybe he felt that the suffering he was depicting was so private and personal that some kind of Buddy Priest adventure wouldn’t resonate as much. Too much expository dialogue also might have spoiled the visceral experience of the film. None of this is meant to knock Andrew Garfield at all, by the way. He’s spectacular.
Adam: I’m right there with you. Garfield is a very emotive actor and I think that works so much to the benefit of Silence because you “get it” so much more than you would with a more stoic presence like, say, Liam Neeson’s character.
Rob: I love that he plays Rodrigues equal parts determined and totally vulnerable. I haven’t seen Hacksaw Ridge, but I hear he’s having a good year so far.
Adam: I’ve seen Hacksaw Ridge. The public wants us to see these pictures and share our thoughts. It’s decent.
Rob: As for the running time, the experience was worth a bit of back pain. Like you said, we should suffer a bit as an audience. Besides, Scorsese’s constantly giving us these little benchmarks to keep the drama ebbing and flowing. Like the “apostatize” sequences, when the Christians-in-hiding are told to step on the image of Christ. It starts as this lark and then gradually builds to the defining moment in the film. You can’t sell that in ninety minutes, but it’s totally cathartic after a long ordeal.
Rob: He’s the best! My audience laughed this desperate, agonized laugh every time he showed up to atone for a whole new set of sins. He definitely, to me, represented the kind of religious zealot who cherry picks the rules and regulations of their faith as they see fit. He’s gaming the system, taking advantage of its loopholes. Rodrigues’ continued frustration with him was a fantastic way to illustrate his own internal struggle, too. How the hell does this guy keep getting away with it? Why do I keep forgiving him? Is this really the human race I’ve been tasked with saving?
Adam: So a big Mark Ahn for me on Silence.
Rob: Totally. Watching Silence is basically a rite of passage -- it’s both spiritually enlightening and existentially miserable. Since I hate myself, it’s a big Mark Ahn for me. Can we just talk for a second about how Martin Scorsese is still balls-deep into excellent filmmaking while many of his peers are asleep on couches somewhere?
Adam: We’re running long.
Rob: Oh, so you can drone on about politics, but I have to cut to the chase?
Adam: On next week’s show Rob & I will be discussing Live By Night, the new gangster movie from Ben Affleck where he has to shoot a bunch of hoods and decide who he’d rather sleep with — Sienna Miller or Zoe Saldana, a sacrifice almost worse than in Silence.
Rob: Truly, we should be in awe. (Saldana, by the way.)
Adam: I’d like to meet them both first and see if my desire is reciprocated.
Rob: Oh cool, you’re high-roading me? I opened up to you, and you punished me for it.
Adam: Until next time…
Adam: These seats are reserved.