The year is 1640, and in Portugal the priests Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) listen to their superior (Ciarán Hinds) in shock as he tells them of the lost priest Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who has gone missing in Japan as a missionary there. The only evidence he is still alive is the letter that has reached them which tells of the crackdown on Christianity in that far off land which has seen hundreds of the faithful persecuted to the point of torture and death, leaving the hundreds of thousands of Japanese Christians in a state of terror. Has Ferreira agreed to renounce his religion to survive? Would he do anything so cowardly in the face of God Almighty? Rodrigues and Garupe are determined to find out.
With Silence director Martin Scorsese completed a trilogy of religious films as befitting his own interest in the subject - there had been a time as a child when he was planning to study to become a priest, until the movies took over as his passion in life, though he remained a practising Catholic and this fed into the morality of his work. The trouble with that was, most of his fans liked to see him making gangster movies, and his religious efforts did nowhere near as well, indeed The Last Temptation of Christ was one of the most controversial productions of the nineteen-eighties thanks to Scorsese's particular take on the gospels not tallying with the official line on such things. Kundun, his Buddhist film, was more or less ignored by contrast.
There was Buddhism in Silence too, though it was largely depicted not as a spiritual force, more the enemy when it came to bringing Christianity to Shinto Japan as the stage was set for a clash between ideologies. Or was it? The way this told it, the situation was more the tension between persecutor and victim, a story that had been told since time began and the human race began to develop into communities, with the telling and emphasised detail that those persecutors blamed those they were victimising entirely for the abuse they were raining down on them. This was perhaps the most important lesson here, and one that this film tried to expose as a manner of revealing that terrible cycle, yet Scorsese's faith remained the dominant element.
Once the two priests reach The Land of the Rising Sun they are set on tracking down Ferreira who has apparently disappeared, though they learn later he has become an apostate, that is he has renounced his religion to work with the authorities and save not only his life, but the lives of those who would be murdered because of their beliefs. The way that Christian love can be twisted against itself, that old joke about getting away with hurting a Christian because they can simply forgive you not seeming amusing at all here, was prominent in this society, all that blessed are the meek for they turn the other cheek business a farce when it means a swathe of citizens are being made mockery of and worse, executed after horrendously painful treatment to the extent that you wonder if the authorities would have turned to torture anyway, and the Christianity is just an excuse.
Naturally, it was not only Japan that had a history of a harsh relationship with those cultures they did not understand or did not want to, but there was a sense Scorsese was using this story, based partly in truth, to depict the Christians as under siege from the heathens in the way the twenty-first century faithful felt they were seeing their values seriously eroded by the Godless, or at least the differently, er, Godful. This fed into a very modern persecution complex where you were nobody unless you had someone trying to keep you down with their boot on your neck, literally or figuratively, as victim culture predominated, so you might have expected Silence to do better at the box office than it did, until you twigged that a major part of that state of mind was its isolation and therefore being part of a huge religion meant there were more to commiserate with. Still, even the Christians didn't turn out in force in the way they did for a certain Mel Gibson epic, and that shared the same dubious leanings towards the masochism inherent in the Christian legends as Silence did. Maybe Scorsese should have made this even more violent? Music by Kathryn and Kim Allen Kluge.
American writer and director who emerged as one of the brightest and most vital of the generation of filmmakers who came to prominence during the 1970s with his heartfelt, vivid and at times lurid works. After deciding against joining the priesthood, he turned to his other passion - movies - and started with short efforts at film school until Roger Corman hired him to direct Boxcar Bertha.
However, it was New York drama Mean Streets that really made Scorsese's name as a talent to watch, and his succeeding films, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (which won Ellen Burstyn an Oscar and is the only Scorsese movie to be made into a sitcom) and the cult classic Taxi Driver (starring Robert De Niro, forever associated with the director's work) only confirmed this.
In the nineties, Scorsese began with the searing gangster saga Goodfellas, and continued with the over-the-top remake of Cape Fear before a change of pace with quietly emotional period piece The Age of Innocence. Casino saw a return to gangsters, and Kundun was a visually ravishing story of the Dalai Lama. Bringing Out the Dead returned to New York for a medical tale of redemption, and Gangs of New York was a muddled historical epic.
Still the Best Director Oscar eluded him, but the 2000s gave what many saw as his best chance at winning. Slick Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator didn't make it, but remake of Infernal AffairsThe Departed finally won him the prize. Outlandish thriller Shutter Island then provided him with the biggest hit of his career after which he surprised everyone by making family film Hugo - another huge hit.
This was followed by an even bigger success with extreme broker takedown The Wolf of Wall Street, and a return to his religious origins with the austere, redemption through torture drama Silence. He also directed Michael Jackson's Bad music video.