Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2016: Andrew Garfield in Silence

Andrew Garfield did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Father Sebastião Rodrigues in Silence.

Silence is a masterful film about two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to attempt to spread Christianity and discover the fate of their mentor.

Andrew Garfield was unable to be nominated for his performance in this film since he was already nominated for Hacksaw Ridge. Both films have at the very least portions that take place in Japan and Christianity plays a large role in terms of the motivations of each man he portrays. In Hacksaw Ridge though we are given a man whose faith is an unquestionable facet, and his story is more about conviction to those firm beliefs. In Silence the focus is more closely on the faith itself. We are introduced to the Catholic Father Rodrigues, as he and Father Garupe (Adam Driver), as they learn that their former mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), has apparently surrendered his mission in Japan, and denounced God. The two decide to go to Japan themselves in order reestablish Christianity within the country and find out the truth in regards to Ferreira. Prior to 2015, Andrew Garfield was an actor whose performances I found myself strangely detached to yet with each new performance I've found him to be an actor with such an eloquent understanding for tone and character. Garfield here embodies the man that is Rodrigues, I do not mean he merely provides a consistent accent, which he does, but that is only a minor facet of this process.

Garfield's work is that of more than one would ever assume. In the opening moments Garfield expresses the devotion of a faithful priest in the service of God. He speaks of his support for the mission to discover their lost mentor, and for the support of Catholicism itself. There is no simplicity in this conviction, as truthful as it is, through Garfield's work. Throughout the film we hear Rodrigues's narration and his thoughts. These moments are not to be forgotten and are not a footnote to this performance. Garfield speaks of the "vision" of Christ's portrait by El Greco, it is a calm astute belief not zealotry. We hear the years of a devotion to God, that is defined by comfort not an overt passion. In order to travel to Japan they find a guide in an alcoholic Japanese Fisherman in Macau by the name of Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), Rodrigues watches the man whose wretched nature seems obvious, yet in this early on Garfield provides only an understanding and empathy in the eyes of Rodrigues for a man who appears to be "the least of his brothers". Garfield offers no judgment in Rodrigues towards this man, only an open heart, as his very physical manner is that of welcoming guide for anyone who may be lost.

The priests successfully reach Japan and discover two villages filled with loyal Christians who are more than appreciative to be granted two new priests to help practice their faith once more. These scenes have an incredible, subtle, beauty to them by revealing how genuine the solace the villagers are granted through their interactions with the priests. In Garfield's own physical and verbal interactions there is only a warmth, a real honesty in his strive to support the Japanese Christians. Garfield's work is remarkable by creating such a lack vanity in his portrayal of Rodrigues's own reflections upon this experience. The joy expressed is a powerful understated quality in Garfield portrayal where Rodrigues's own faith seems only to be rewarded, by that solace the peasants feel by his mere presence. There is a specific lack of indulgence within this though as Garfield expresses an equal understanding of the hardship of their lives. During this time Rodrigues is also made aware of Kichijiro's own tragic story, where his whole family was slaughtered and only he survived by renouncing God. Rodrigues acceptance of this confession, is made earnest in Garfield's performance which reflects a wish to offer comfort yet once again has empathy for his terrible suffering.

Eventually this pleasant time is ended when the Japanese inquisition visits the town in order to find the priests and purge the Christians from the land. They choose hostages to pay for these "crimes". Rodrigues advises the hostages to trample on the Fumie (image of Christ). Garfield speaks the words "Trample, trample" not lightly. It is with a pained conviction that Garfield gives, presenting the attempt in Rodrigues to allow the men to live, assuage their conscience even while he struggles with his own by giving this instruction. The hostages, except one, Kichijiro, fail to apostatize to the inquisitor's satisfaction, leaving them to be slowly executed by being placed on wooden crosses within the ocean. Rodrigues and Garupe can but watch at a distance as it unfolds in front of them. Garfield's work is very poignant in the sequence as it is more than even reflecting the distress of witnessing the men's slow death. Although that is shown there is even more as the initial conviction of the man begins to waver. Garfield conveys the confusion of this development as he attempts to ponder the suffering with an ever loving God. At the end of the execution Garfield has shown Rodrigues own loss of certainty through only his soft narration and scarce reactions.

Rodrigues and Garupe separate for their safety leaving Rodrigues to trek alone in an attempt to continue the mission. Garfield is exceptional in revealing the difficult state Rodrigues is in, experiencing almost his own Gethsemane as he wanders attempting to find direction. Garfield reveals a madness of this as Rodrigues grapples with now a palatable doubt. Garfield presents a harrowing vision into Rodrigues's mind as a man who is truly lost, finding his only companion to be, Kichijiro, a man who appears to be without a single conviction. Garfield earns the almost venomous description Rodrigues grants to the man, suggesting Rodrigues at his lowest point still distraught over all that he has witnessed. His broken state reaches a tipping point as he attempts to find water, and this time literally sees a vision of El Greco's Christ in his own reflection. Garfield is rather amazing in the scene by throwing himself into the insanity of Rodrigues in the moment, as he is unable to contemplate the meaning. Shortly afterwards he is caught by the Japanese inquisitors, having been betrayed by Kichijiro, and placed with a group of Japanese Christian prisoners. It is here that Garfield crafts a fascinating juxtaposition between what Rodrigues presents outwardly, and what is found internally.

Initially Rodrigues scolds the Christians over their calmness given the situation they are in, Garfield expressing still that madness stemming from his doubts. When one of the young Christians though offers words of comfort while turning to Rodrigues for assurance, Garfield is exceptional in the way he is able to realize this switch in Rodrigues in a moment. The change is not a true change, he offers an attempt of bringing that sort of guidance he had before. It isn't quite the same though as Garfield expresses Rodrigues's concern still for the people, yet he no longer has the same convictions himself. Rodrigues becomes a target of sorts by the inquisitor, who intends to have him apostatize in order to be an example for all the remaining Japanese Christians. Garfield's performance manages to find this strange dichotomy as Rodrigues, because of the inquisitor's plan, becomes set on becoming an example of conviction. Garfield's work is outstanding as he is able to provide these two mindsets outwardly and internally in tandem. As Garfield offers the spirit of a righteous man standing for his beliefs as he positioned in front of one challenge after another, meanwhile given time to look inwardly while true convictions are fading.

The Japanese attempt to break Rodrigues through a series of horrible acts. There is one unforgettable scene where Rodrigues is presented with a captured father Garupe who is given his own chance to apostatize to save the Christians, but instead chooses to attempt to physically save them leading to his own death. Garfield gives one of the most harrowing depictions of anguish you'll see on screen as he struggles to cry out to Garupe but is held back by his captors. Garfield is incredible in the moment yet what makes this leave the greater impact, is the way he effectively depicts Rodrigues take in every violent act. They do phase him then they are gone, Garfield gives us a man haunted by every death. He's incredible as he captures the sheer intensity of such torture in his very being. There is no point lost in this portrayal of Rodrigues, we understand every moment both as he is face to face with his persecutors and as he is speaking within his own soul. One of the final attempts to break Rodrigues comes with being presented with father Ferriera a broken man. Garfield is heartbreaking as he begins to merge the internal and the external as argues with his own mentor. The feelings of betrayal are palatable as is his own terrible distress fitting as the very man who helped teach him the faith now wishes for him to abandon it.

Silence is a masterpiece. Martin Scorsese directs the film aware of the inherit strength of the story. As with his work on The Wolf Wall Street, where he did not tell these men were bad he rather showed them in their natural despicable behavior, Scorsese does not hold your hand through this story. He allows one to experience it for themselves. This approach makes Andrew Garfield's work paramount to the film's success. Rodrigues struggle must be through Garfield, and Garfield must be the one to realize through his performance the most daring finalization of his journey. We are given in the end a man who makes not the sacrifice you'd expect, as Rodrigues does tread on the Fumie, but it is not as the act one would believe to be. Garfield grants the emotional weight in the moment but it is not the desperate act of a broken man, as it may have been for Ferriera when he did the same. There is pain but so much more as Garfield embodies this man who closer with God than ever while technically refuting him. This journey needs to be understood for the film to be successful. Garfield's performance is a powerful performance in terms of sheer emotion. What makes it extraordinary is, again, is his embodiment of this man. His portrayal goes beyond any simplifications of martyrdom, to offer a truly profound experience of man finding his faith through silence.


Luke Higham said...

Louis: Brilliant Review. :)

Has Driver gone up.

Calvin Law said...

Amazing performance, I agree. Best work of 2016 besides Jeffrey Wright.

Charles Heiston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Giuseppe Fadda said...

Yes, this was an amazing performance. Great review!

Calvin Law said...

Charles: Let's wait till the next post.

Charles Heiston said...

Well, All i can say is, This performance is mesmerizing. Easily my favorite of this decade.
Calvin: We all know who's going to be first. =D

Calvin Law said...

Charles: :)

Robert MacFarlane said...

So that's 10 perfect scores for Lead this year. Hm.

Luke Higham said...

Should never underestimate Louis' enthusiasm every year.

Robert: I remember you expecting no more than 5 fives in Lead last year and we ended up with 11.

Robert MacFarlane said...

What can I say, I'm picky with what I consider top brand.

Louis Morgan said...


A 4 still but a strong 4 to be sure.

Mitchell Murray said...

What would you say your top 5 Andrew Garfield performances are, Louis? And how would you say he has evolved as an actor? What separates his performances this year from say "The Social Network"?

Louis Morgan said...


Your comment is what actually has made me think about dropping giving ratings, which I've considered in the past. Is say Ryan Gosling in La La Land equal to F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus, no, but I love both of the performances and I feel they either match a demanding role or/and go above and beyond with their work. 5 doesn't mean more than it is a performance I appreciate greatly.


1. Silence
2. Hacksaw Ridge
3. 99 Homes
4. The Social Network
5. Never Let Go

For me. he has evolved by focusing less on surface posturing, and bringing for more internalization in his performances. Now it is not as though disliked him in Social Network, or Never Let Go, but they didn't connect with me as I felt they should. Since 99 Homes, Garfield has never failed to connect past that certain level, that let me so detached even in his breakdown scene in Never Let Me Go.

Mitchell Murray said...

I would agree to much of that Louis. Even in his more contemporary work, Garfield for me has always had a degree of immaturity in his performances. Although it should be said I liked him a fair bit more in "The Social Network" than you and actually consider him superior to Eisenberg. "99 Homes" was a major turning point for me, as it proved he could anchor a film and pull off a subtle role.

While he's still not one of my favourite actors, Garfield is more than capable with the right character, and is in my opinion one of the defining actors of the 2010s.

Mike Hannigan said...

I've just seen "Silence" only yesterday. It's much too long, lacks any dynamics and believable dialogues. Despite the title, it lacks any silence whatsoever, actors just keep talking through three hours. Dialogues are much too pompous, they would likely work as a religious op-ed in the newspaper, but they don't work in the movie. Scorsese failed to find any new sort of film languages for the novel, which I find one of the most interesting I ever rad. He didn't play with the novel, he basically transferred all the episodes and characters 1:1, but, unfortunately, changed the ending into much hammerish. In the novel, Rodrigues has much more doubts, and the ending it's not so obvious.

As for Garfield, I've already critizised him for Mel Gibson's pompous story, and it's clearly not favourite actor of mine. While watching "Silence" I imagined young De Niro in this part, he would give it much more understanding and sensitivity. Garfield is much over the top, if he doesn't scream, he has this funny expression of constant suffering on his face. My personal opinion is that Scorsese made several mistakes in this movie, but the biggest one was to offer Rodrigues part to Garfield. As for other actors, Neeson played another version of a mentor (just imagine what Day-Lewis would do with this episode!), and the main prosecutor is just a cartoon.

As a Scorsese big fan, and also fan of the book, I must say this was one of my biggest movie disappointments ever. Earlier, I thought the Academy ignored this movie because of its heavy subject or bad timing. No, the Academy ignored this movie because it's simply a very bad movie.

Just imagine the original casting, Del Toro, Bernal and DDL, or any other alternative, with De Niro for instance. Just imagine, Marty doing it in early 1990s. Now, it was such a waste.

Charles Heiston said...

Mike: You're such a downer.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Charles: He seems to be a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian.

Charles Heiston said...

Tahmeed, True! Lol, glad he's not around much.