Godforsaken Journey

 161 min.  | R

Notably lacking from Martin Scorsese’s Silence is the distinctive dynamic style that makes the master auteur’s work special. There’s little music, no sweeping camera movements, and few filmmaking techniques on display. Nothing about the movie is captivating, and at times it’s barely interesting.

The story, written by Scorsese and Jay Cocks (Gangs of New York) and adapted from the Shusaku Endo novel, is one of religious imperialism and philosophy. In 1640, Portuguese Jesuit priests Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) venture to Japan to find their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Because the 300,000 Christians in Japan are being persecuted for their beliefs, the journeying priests believe Ferreira is in danger. They know the Buddhists are murdering Christians, but assume the risk, citing God’s will.

It’s on the journey to find Ferreira that the film grinds to a halt. He’s not easy to locate, and the Christians who are eager to help have no idea where he is. The plot then becomes episodic as Rodrigues and Garrpe soothe Christians with confessions and teachings, all the while wary of Inquisitors coming to kill them. Rodrigues’ journeys from one village to the next become repetitive, the only cinematic creativity being the brutal ways Christians are murdered.

It’s a terrible feeling when you look at your watch after 90 minutes and dread that you have another hour to go. And the last hour doesn’t get any better.

The story does raise thought-provoking issues, albeit in a mundane way. At its core, this is about the desire to maintain faith even as it conflicts with your experiences. Surely no just and merciful God would allow innocent people to die at the hands of extremists, right? But when their prayers aren’t answered, Rodrigues and Garrpe can’t help but question their beliefs.

The idea of spreading religion where it’s not wanted is certainly relevant. Your religious inclinations will likely dictate how you see Christianity and Buddhism depicted, but it’s worth pointing out that Scorsese doesn’t seem to be picking sides. He’s interested only in asking the questions, and through the strength of the performances, trying to find answers becomes heart-wrenching and complex.

Unfortunately, it all plays out in a way that’s exhaustingly tedious. A movie doesn’t have to be flashy to be good, but here the editing certainly needs to be tighter, the pace quickened. Martin Scorsese is going for a distinctly subtle feel and he succeeds too well. It’s all so subtle and quiet that it never resonates.