I thought it inadequate to consider Martin Scorsese’s Silence (Essential), which screens extensively at the Music Box Theatre this weekend, at too much length. The film is such a massive object, worth deeper consideration that only comes after additional viewings and a greater gestation period. My numerous drafts recounting my experience with Scorsese’s latest masterwork offered a deficient analysis of the film as a historical, spiritual, and even personal object; combining the three just came across as fragmented, lost, and in perpetual search of something elusive that may have escaped my grasp during my initial viewing.
I will say this: Like so many of Scorsese’s other films, Silence finds its characters in perpetual search for meaning. Yet their deficiencies are rendered less unappealing when a tactile element inspires that meaning. Scorsese’s men, of the Travis Bickle, Henry Hill, Rupert Pupkin, and Jordan Belfort variety, will often find this in the familial, relationships, vanity, money or some combination of the four. The spiritual is often a separate, periphery element that is not afforded much consideration for its lack of quote unquote tangibility. In Father Rodrigues’ (Andrew Garfield) journey to Japan following the Sakoku Edict of 1635, we find him ascribing meaning in his swelling congregation of Kakure Kirishitans (Hidden Christians), who are unable to practice their spirituality until his arrival. He arrogantly goes against the doctrine of the land, naively believing to have uncovered his purpose. But as his work puts the lives of his congregation in peril, he exhibits a hubris that suggests that the he believes in his ability to conquer the land, “laying roots in the swamp”.
Father Rodrigues is a profoundly complex character, one whose insistence in following a noble path is compromised by prideful detours. And as Silence confronts Father Rodrigues’ callow presumptions, we’re offered a rich dialectic on the nature of faith, one that examines Christian and Buddhist doctrines side-by-side with a scholarly and humanistic lens. As someone who was raised to adhere to Catholic principles only to embrace more secular values, I found Silence’s examinations of Christian and Buddhist faiths to be astonishingly thoughtful. What Scorsese renders here may be rooted in religion, but it sprouts into a study on humanity, understanding, and faith – if not in a higher power, then in oneself.
It came as something genuinely startling when Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s documentary Homo Sapiens (Noteworthy) – which screens this Friday and Tuesday at the Gene Siskel Film Center – exhibited familiar thematic elements to Scorsese’s Silence. Keep in mind that Homo Sapiens will likely prove to be the more arduous of the two films, as it is composed exclusively of fixed-frame shots without the aid of any narrative cues. The film surveys various locales in disarray: all abandoned man-made fixtures captured as they’re slowly being subsumed by nature.
There are no actual people in Geyrhalter’s document, which would initially express itself as an admonishment of contemporary mass consumption. The most potent images are those captured in an abandoned mall/movie theater, where Geyrhalter captures debris, including a rolling soft drink cup, as you see images of “Coming Attractions” (including a poster from one of the Twilight films). Yet the futility on display, this sense of nature overwhelming all of our cultural edifices, possesses an astonishing beauty that overwhelms the senses. It’s a film meant to be seen on the largest screen possible.
I saw arrogance in many of the images; arrogance in man’s capacity to reshape nature and construct it in his image. But as with Silence, Homo Sapiens captures nature’s insistent quality to engulf the historical memory, rendering ideas and artifices obsolete and buried, allowing only what’s in the palm of your hand to guide your way.