Why Silence is important to Film


“Speech is silver, silence is golden.”

Silence. A moment of loneliness or peace. A moment of calm or stress. Silence fills a void, silence is the void. Silence can have the same impact as music, but only more powerful than a three-minute song.  Silence in a song is also very powerful. Imagine a song playing, when it suddenly stops, to then kick in again. the bit of silence stands opposite of the loud music, only enforcing the loudness of it. It’s one of the most powerful tools available to a director.
Silence can have a meaning. As many as you want to give it. To some people silence can mean rest, to others it can mean stress. It differs from context and from the people you’re showing it to. Silence can fit nearly anywhere you’d like. It’s the all fitting song. It’s the song with the most meaning, without any lyrics, silence is the perfect score.

As an example of where silence is very well utilized, I thought that there would be no better example than a movie that is called Silence and went under the radar for a lot of people, namely the 2016 Martin Scorsese’s epic about two priests who go to Japan, where Christian  persecution is very present, to find Fereira, another priest who went there to convince people to believe in God rather than in Buddha and who now supposedly lives as a normal Japanese citizen, after he had stepped on an image of mv5bmjy3otk0nja2nv5bml5banbnxkftztgwntg3mjc2mdi-_v1_sy1000_cr006401000_al_Jesus when he was captured and forced to do so. The film’s mostly the tale of one of the three priests called Rodrigues, played by Andrew Garfield, who once again gives an amazing performance. Rodrigues starts off as a very religious guy, ready to spread the word of God. He’s full of faith. When he and Garupe, the other priest, masterfully played by Adam Driver, arrive in Japan they are very eager to help anyone who’s willing to believe in God. They relief them of their sins and they pray with them each night. But the activities that they’re doing are illegal, which will lead to some inconveniences. After the two have preached for a while in a village, the word starts to spread and other people from other villages start to flow in. The priests didn’t only catch the attention of Christian villagers, but also of the followers of  Inoue, the inquisitor. These followers travel down to the village, where they force the inhabitants – who all say that they aren’t Christian, something the followers don’t buy – to choose four people who’ll then be punished for their belief in God. The next day, the villagers have chosen four of their own, as the knights of the Inoue have come back to the village.  The chosen quartet’s then given one more chance to prove that they don’t believe in God: they too have to step on an image of Jesus. They all do what’s asked, but that is, not enough for the Knights (they aren’t really knights, but I don’t know how to refer to them. They want that the Christian Japanese also have to spit on the Holy Cros and say that Maria was a whore. They have to apostatize. The first one refuses. the second one refuses. The third one spits. The fourth one refuses. Three out of four get punished. The remaining one runs away. The now trio is brought to the sea, where they’ve constructed three wooden crosses so that the believers will drown when the tide comes. Three days later the last Christian dies. When he blows out his last breath the screen slowly fades to black, the sound of cracking waves slowly fades out and silence comes. For a moment, we’re solely watching a black screen, with no sound. It’s a moment of silence. A moment of silence that represents the things God has said to prevent their death, or the lack thereof. It’s the first moment in the film where there’s complete silence, which sets up the meaning of silence throughout the film; God’s lack of interference. Is he really there? If so, why isn’t he responding? Why is he letting all these things happen? Why doesn’t he do something? That’s the main theme throughout the movie. It’s about questioning religion and about how much someone’s willing to lose to keep on believing. Rodriguez, the protagonist, undergoes a crisis of faith. He, the one that was oh so religious starts to question the existence of God. He loses everything from an emotional standpoint, he gets stripped of all of his faith. When he’s lost everything, he asks himself: “Am I praying to nothing?”.

“Silence” – 2016

The absence of God also gets represented by absolutely gorgeous and poetic shots, that could also be analyzed and by camera movements. When  Kichijiro, the one who stepped on Jesus and also spit on the Holy Cros, watches his family die by fire, the camera quickly moves backward, insinuating that God’s literally leaving him. Rodriguez has that moment too, but in the end, it all comes down to that one moment of silence. Gods silence. A very powerful moment of silence.
At the end of the film, we get another moment of silence, when Rodriguez has been tortured and left rotting in a cell, to then have the decision of apostatizing, by stepping on an image of Jesus. He has to apostatize to save the lives of a handful of Japanese Christians, who’re hanging upside down, slowly dying, or he can also do the opposite of that, and the Christians all die. Rodriguez decides to step on the image of Jesus. Slow motion kicks in and sound drowns out. Pure silence and beautiful cinematography. Silence, again representing the silence of God, but also to strengthen the impact of his action. The sparing use of slow motion also indicates the importance of his decision. As he steps upon the image, a cock crows three times, which refers to the betrail of Peter, a figure from the Bible. Rodriguez has betrayed God. The film ends with the camera slowly moving closer to the hands of the corps of Rodriguez, which hides a little wooden cross. He’s kept on believing. He secretly kept on believing, yet he has still lost and God has left him. The secret believing is the kind of believing the Japanese wanted. Hidden away, not open to the public, not able to be expressed.

“Silence” – 2016

From this little analysis of the silence in Silence you can to see that I was able to pull a lot of information out of just a tiny moment of silence. It only shows how wonderfully it was used by Scorsese and how powerful silence can be. The point of this article is not to say that silence is necessary to your film, but to show you that it can be important. There are a lot of movies that don’t integrate a moment of silence at all, the recent Baby Driver for example is one of many. In that film there’s continuously music drumming in the ears of the protagonist, which we also continuously get to hear and by doing that we get placed in the head of Baby. There’s not one moment where silence is necessary, because it wouldn’t fit the movie. It would break the tone and wouldn’t fit the character. 

Now, I’d just want to quickly recap what silence can mean to movies in a whole and why it’s important. So, silence. Silence is not a necessity, it’s there to enforce something that might already be there. In a movie filled with music, a moment of silence will emphasize that one scene. Silence can have a meaning, like where it in this movie represented the voice of God and how he could be heard in silence. It’s a very versatile tool and can completely change the tone of a scene or the point you’re trying to get across.

Images via: IMDb

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