The Look of Silence

| January 6, 2016

When I first witnessed the trailer for Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, I honestly thought it was a joke. It seemed so surreal and bizarre that in Indonesia there would be men that were celebrated for slaughtering millions of people and then going to recreate such atrocities in videos. After I saw the film, I still felt the same way, yet the ending left me emotionally overwhelmed, that Oppenheimer managed to deliver one of the most daring documentaries ever films ever created and managed to do it by having these men confront their vile past and seeing the actual toll it surmounted to by its finale. The Look of Silence, a companion piece by Oppenheimer is the same, yet a mirrored version of Killing, in that we now have the perspective of a direct victim of such violence. The film focuses on Adi, an optometrist who finds the murderers of his older brother, through watching footage that Oppenheimer shot years prior. Once finding this out, Adi goes to each of their houses, under the guise of taking tests for glasses and confronts each of them, in order for them to understand what they’ve done to both the people of their country.

Oppenheimer’s approach for Silence is much more melancholy in pacing and tone than The Act of Killing. It trades its means of shock factor, by giving the audience the time and presence of Adi and his family. The first time we meet Adi’s mother, we hear a voice over of a prayer that she says for her dead son. It’s a drastic departure from his previous film, yet it manages to work as the perfect companion piece. Every frame, moment and utterance of the film offers the grief of a single family, but also the emotional weight of an entire populous that has been wronged. When Adi asks direct questions to his brother’s murderers, one feels pangs of guilt and sorrow, as each man either gets angry or outright denies any wrongdoing. While the film trades Killing’s sensationalism for a smaller, grounded approach, Silence manages to hit emotional cues that impact directly and linger on well after viewing this masterpiece. Oppenheimer and his editor, Nils Pagh Andersen, manage to build upon every scene until the very end of the film, that heighten with each interview. Intercut with a variety of beautiful imagery by Lars Skree, craft a tapestry of both beauty and sadness that linger for the entirety of Silence’s running time that make it one of the strongest and most powerful films ever made.

The disc for The Look of Silence from Drafthouse Films and Cinedigm comes in their usual packages, with both a booklet reversible cover and a digital HD download of the film. The extras contain an audio commentary with Oppenheimer and legendary documentarian Errol Morris, the post-film Q and A with both Oppenheimer and filmmaker Werner Herzog from the 2015 Berlin Film Festival and an interview with Oppenheimer about the film. The essay contained in the booklet by Erid Hynes is poignant and fulfilling read, post-viewing, as well as many of the other supplementary extras on the disc.

There’s a phrase that is uttered by both Adi’s mother in the film, as well as many of the killer’s that are confronted that still resonates with me. It is along the lines of “The Past is Past” and yet with Oppenheimers viewpoint and account of the Indonesian massacre, the past is still very much with us in The Look of Silence. It isn’t a film that everyone wouldn’t want to see, but it must be witnessed and beheld as a piece of art and as a means of social justice. Within a relatively small amount of time, Joshua Oppernheimer has become an immediate filmmaker to be sought out with both The Act of Killing and now The Look of Silence and I suggest that one should make it a priority to see both of these films, no matter how uncomfortable they may make you. Highly Recommended! 

The Look of Silence will be released from Drafthouse Films and Cinedigm on January 12th, 2016.

About the Author:

is a graduate from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Audio for Visual Media. He works as a freelance location sound mixer, boom operator, sound designer, and writer in his native Chicago. He's an avid collector of films, comics, and anime.
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