Martin Scorsese is, along with Ingmar Bergman, one of my two favorite filmmakers. I think I've seen all of his feature films at least once, plus a number of his documentaries. The quality and variety of his work and his prolific output inspire me as an artist, and the way he wrestles with the sacred and the profane speaks to me more deeply than almost any other artist. He's not afraid to mine the darkness, nor is he too self-conscious to illuminate beauty and humanity. His new film, Silence, focuses on a sort of rescue mission in which two 17th century Jesuit priests go to find their mentor, who has disappeared in Japan during a time of extreme persecution against Christians.
This material is different from the gangster films Scorsese is most famous for, though it's not completely new territory for the director of The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. It's fascinating to see him play in Akira Kurosawa's back yard, and he does so with a Bergman-like attention to religion and tortured doubt. (Bergman has a movie called The Silence, and both films' titles refer to the silence of God.) Scorsese's own Catholicism makes this a very personal project, and he asks some profound questions without providing concrete answers. The storytelling isn't as flashy as I usually like my Scorsese films (I like to be able to see the artist's fingerprints sometimes), but it's straightforward and clear, and it suits the drama without distracting from it. He's able to use cuts to underline the importance of as simple a movement as one person handing a cross necklace to another. And at a few moments when more ostentatious filmmaking is required, Scorsese demonstrates the old master hasn't lost his touch.
In Silence, Scorsese dramatizes philosophical and spiritual questions as they relate to a flesh and blood world filled with no-win moral dilemmas. He illustrates the best and worst aspects of humanity, all in a suspenseful and dramatic story that would work as an entertainment even for someone uninterested in plumbing the depths the film goes to. The acting is strong, and Liam Neeson's vulnerable turn as the mentor figure is particularly powerful. All elements of the production work in concert without drawing undue attention to themselves. I thought the film was good on my first viewing, and I expect to find it more rewarding as I revisit it over the coming years.
Later tonight, sometime after I get home from some dayjob work, I'll finish and post new pages of my webcomic Flesh Machine at my site, michaelavolio.com. While the questions I ask in Flesh Machine aren't quite as profound as those in Silence, I still hope they'll be thought-provoking, and I've been pleased to get feedback about how entertaining the story is. And, hey, it's my first comic — I can't be expected to be at Scorsese's level yet, right?
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Thanks for reading!