Not sure because the movie was a technical masterpiece or because of the very long and dragged-out silences in the movie. Is it Oscar season again? Last time I suffered from “Pregant Silence” was during 12 Years a Slave and Ornithologist, Philatelist, Philanthropist – and Murderer? – Foxcatcher.
This is how I looked at the end of the movie:
What’s the story about?
Two Portuguese Jesuit Priests embark on a journey to Japan in search of father Ferreira who had disappeared after 15 years of teaching Christianity to the Japanese and was said to have Absconded (abandoned) the faith following torture from the Japanese people.
The priests arrive there with the help of a guide, a Japanese whose family was killed for not having given up the faith and he was plagued with guilt as he did not hesitate to deface an icon in order to save his life. The two priests then hide by day and preach by night in a village at the coast, living in fear of being discovered, until word gets around and they are taken to a nearby island to preach and baptise here too.
The rumor spreads and the local inquisitor raids both villages in search of them and kills three people (resembling the crucification act in the Bible) by slowly drowning them. The priests split at this point and we only follow the story of one of them as he gets captured by the inquisitor and forced in different means to abandon his faith. He finally does so in order to save some lives. He then lives in Japan and works for the Edo government as a salaried employee tasked with finding Christian items in the Dutch commerce ships and excluding them out of Japan.
“It seems to me that our mission here is more urgent than ever. We must go find Father Ferreira.”
Where did it go right?
The movie’s imagery is fantastic. Filmed in Taiwan mostly during the day time, the jungle shots and the wide angle looks are stunning. Mountains, sea, little cottages. Attention to detail is what I like and I got loads of it! Even the mud was truly great. People’s clothing was authentic for the period and gestures and customs were also kept (as in marrying a good friend’s wife and taking over his household upon his death). Even the torture scenes (though gruesome) were accurate.
Where was it pretentious?
The movie tries too hard to make the life of the missionary priests in a new and foreign country identify with the life of Jesus. One of the priests even sees himself as Jesus in the water as he washes his face. That same icon is shown for more than 10 seconds so WE, the audience, can see how strong his faith was and how obsessed he was with religion.
The similarities don’t stop there: we have a lot of Christian stories we recognize. The martyrdom, the walk through the city on a donkey and being boo-ed by the crowd, the torture, the calm preaching for the masses, the resignation in the face of a cruel faith, Juda’s betrayal, the silver coins (300 not 30 for a priest), the Japanese who denies the priest and the religion three times (Peter anyone?) and the list can go on.
I do think this was a bit over the top but being a Scorsese movie, I expect the director took every approach possible to ingrain an idea into your mind and make it stick.
Where did it fail?
It failed to move me. I expected to be lifted and appalled by the experience of the priests, but the movie score was missing (think of crickets here) and it felt more like a journal (which in the end proved right) than of a drama. Loads of narration from either the main character or from Liam, loads of talk about faith (duh!). The narration is so annoying – it even goes over what should be a powerful scene and it beats it down to oblivion by hearing the personal thoughts of the priest.
Many of the scenes in this film are needlessly long and really do beg the question of why this film has seemingly been constructed to take so long to tell the story that it needs to.
I mean, here are priests trying to convert the masses without linking the new religion into theirs. Just preaching of a God they don’t know and associate with something else. Preaching of ressurection of Christ and miracles to the peasents. They should have done what the Romans did when they conquered the Greeks: they renamed all their gods to theirs (Zeus became Jupiter, Artemis became Diana, Aphrodite became Venus and so on). And if you want to convert an entire nation to Christianity, start from the upper-masses and convert the rich and powerful first (see Constantine of the Byzantine Empire and his mother Elena). Then, the rich and powerful won’t persecute and kill you the moment you take the talk to the masses.
I think it’s not a major fail, it’s actually what the movie wanted to promote: the idea of the majority religion (Buddhism in this case) persecuting the smaller religion (Christianity) and a cautionary tale about our own cases today. The religion did not stick and as observed, the people were more interested in receiving items of Christian origin than prayers. And their belief of Paradise was very similar to the Viking’s and Valhalla.
Andrew Garfield was really committed, gorgeous hair throughout. I mean, to have this mane shine throughout in all that sunshine, water, humidity. I want to know what products he’s using. The former Spider-Man main-man pulls it through convincingly, shining with inner faith, tormented by other’s suffering and in the end, aged with makeup and special effects, he still carries that priest-shine of a person who is right for the job.
Adam Driver and Liam Neeson who not only went through physical changes, you actually feel a bit concerned for their health, but that conviction is shown in their eyes. Adam Driver only appears in the first bit of the movie and the last bit making it a bit sad as I would have loved to hear his story.
Liam Neeson only makes a short appearance too and his acting is flawless. It’s the eyes that got me. The eyes of a man who have been through a lot and had to do very hard things.
The Japanese actors are equally outstanding, especially Issey Ogata whose performance has his own flamboyant way of being ruthless.
With regards to the Japanese, it’s sometimes difficult to understand their English (which is authentic) but sometimes I think of the SouthPark character from City Wok when I hear them talk.
Powerful historical piece about the persecution and martyrdom of Christian in 1600’s in Japan and probably better received by the people who read the book or by people of faith (not a naturalist like myself). Rate: BORING. DO NOT WATCH.