Silence ★★★★½

In a very obvious way, a potent distillation of the disparities between faith and religion with one working inward and the other outward. All the same, the film encourages one to ponder its complexities as it meditatively unfurls, examining how a “mere formality” of denunciation can radically upset each. Scorsese’s project is too thoughtful to be caught up in its own obsessions, however, and watching Rodrigues’ views against come up against those of the outsiders he professes to save generates much of the drama.

Indeed, foremost among Silence’s concerns is a question of perspective. True faith, the film posits, comes through submission and sublimation and not through external stimulus, and that realization provides the main character arc as empathy through weakness turns into strength. That at a certain point Rodrigues’ silence becomes crueler than God’s is the film’s irony and message. In the extended coda, which recalls that of The Age of Innocence, we ache to see external proof of faith, despite the film’s lesson that faith need not be presented externally to exist.

Silence, then, benefits greatly from Scorsese’s almost startling aesthetic asceticism. It stages a process of withholding, asking us to bear witness even as it firmly refuses to confirm what we are seeing. The key moment occurs as Rodrigues is in his prison cell, powerlessly watching the murder of a Christian. Filmed almost entirely from Rodrigues’ POV, this Cavellian moment tracks back and forth as the violence unfolds, the slats of the cell turning the perspective shot into a 17th-century filmstrip. This unusual metacinematic gesture inevitably turns Silence into a greater consideration of violence in Scorsese’s oeuvre, which has so often charted the path to redemption through suffering.