Scorsese (2017 USA) Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver
Viewed Empire Cinema 10th Jan 2017; ticket £3.95
A deadness of being
Hollywood doesn’t do certain subjects very well: sex, mental illness and spirituality. Sex is handled as pornography image and status; mental illness as overcoming and spirituality as outward acting facial gestures and gloopy text and music.
Silence has at its core an idea of the religious spirit as conveyed through the persona of Garrpe and Rodrigues, two missionary Jesuits. But Scorsese’s Silence never develops any spiritual key, and is unable to move beyond spectacle. It presents as a sort of Japanese Spartacus or Quo Vadis, with about the same claim to spiritual insight as these classic epics.
This outcome may have something to do with the way in which Hollywood movies are put together as productions. After the purchase of a property, there is the script development sometimes proceeding alongside putting talent in place. The script development is the key stage in getting the project to production and a Hollywood script, given the green light, normally has certain key characteristics: strong characters who have potential to grow into the narrative; good plotting with a realisable through story which the viewers can understand and a stylistic gloss packaging up films for specific genres or audiences – family – horror – male youth etc. which stylistic gloss also determines the music input and tracks.
This is the tried and road tested Hollywood production schema. Subject matter is usually less important than character or through story, though content is important for sell pitch and trail. The problem for Scorsese when he tries to work a spiritual dimension into his story, is firstly that there is no place for the spiritual outside the resources of his actors. And secondly that the domain of the spirit is usually dysfunctionally served by scripts, either as voice overs, texts or lines of dialogue. Directors who have managed to insinuate faith and spirit into film are few: Dreyer, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Bresson there are a others, but all these aforementioned directors carry spirit into the grain of the medium of film and the image. Dialogue is often sparse; characters, and the relations of the characters are revealed by the mis–en-scene. They are for seeing, for the audience to see. The dynamics are to include the viewer by enabling seeing; not being told or manipuated as per text in a script.
The aforementioned directors rarely resort to voice over to tell the audience their characters state of mind or struggles. The use of voice over in Silence is a crass, crude device that destroys itself in utterance. Instead of playing out ‘Silence’ through his characters, Scorsese plays out through the script. Instead of acting presences, the people on the screen filling out the scenario (and directors in the past have often, but not always, resorted to amateur players), Scorsese employs two cute dudes, pretending to be Jesuit priests. At certain VO places in the script, where Rodrigues has ‘ internal moments’, such as doubting the existence of God or the reason for suffering, Scorsese resorts to close up affect images of Rodrigues. The effect is that it looks like some one is reading out the VO script while Scorsese gives direction to Andrew Garfield to look spiritual. This is according to the soap opera guide to the art of coarse acting.
The scene that is most indicative of Scorsese’s inability to be anything other than a crude action movie director is the long sequence where the four Japanese Christians are crucified in the ocean. The camera keeps cutting back to Rodrigues and Garrpe as they spectate from behind some convenient bushes ( ridiculous conceit of a shot ). Although they mutter on about suffering the two priests are absurdly suggestive of a couple of school kids playing hooky who have crept in behind the bleachers to see the game.
The sea crucifixion scene, as a prolonged sequence, is unnecessary ( I mean we’ve seen or can see, if we so chose, Isis obscenity) and shows that Scorsese is really only interested in spectacle; adding the two priests into the sequence, relinquishes any claim by ‘Silence’ to be being taken seriously. And the rest of ‘Silence’ adds nothing more to this contiguity of physical abuse and over voiced anguish that characterise the sea crucifixions. The debates between Rodrigues and the Inquisitor are comic book bubble speech dialogues, and the meeting between Ferrara and Rodrigues seems like two old actors getting together. Brando or Max von Sydow might have given something to the Ferrara character.
Scorcese signs off ‘Silence, with a typical Hollywood manipulation. The final shot is the consummation of the through story: the zoom into the crucifix in Rodrigues’ palm. But this shot has been set up by the manipulation of the point in time at which Rodrigues’ Voice Over dries up. Having been drip fed Rodrigues’ internal state of mind for the first part of the movie, his inner voice dries up at the point at which the audience might like to know if he had actually become apostate or whether his outer actions concealed an inner deep resistance. Anyway this manipulation at least gives the script writer or Scorsese the satisfying feeling that he has given his audience a spectacular surprise send off with the last shot. adrin neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org