Review: The Look of Silence


Come see a film about the consequences of the Indonesian massacre is perhaps not the best sell for a Monday evening film club outing but none the less I persevered with my choice and was delighted that a handful of brave souls joined me.

I have to say I;m so pleased that I saw this film. The Look of Silence is quite possibly one of the great documentaries of our time. Haunting, compelling, visually stunning and emotionally draining all in 103 minutes. Joshua Oppenheimer has not just made a documentary but a work of art.

I shouldn’t have been surprised after all his previous documentary the Act of Killing was also wonderful. This companion piece to me though is slightly superior given the content.

The Act of Killing focused on the perpetrators, who bragged unabashed about the carnage they caused and with great pride reenacted their deeds with great aplomb for the cameras. The Look of Silence follows the story of Adi, an optometrist, who lost his brother during the Indonesian massacre when his village was taken over by the military and ‘communists’ were cold heartedly executed in droves. Ari gets the opportunity to meet his brother’s killers and talk openly to them about what happened.

Ari’s focus is not vengeance but conversation. A conversation to enable understanding. A conversation to bring him some peace.

The truly wonderful moments in this documentary are the silent ones. The moments were survivor and perpetrator stop conversation and the camera continues to roll. We see Adi swallow hard, perhaps swallowing some emotion, perhaps worried that his next question may take him too far,

We see those who murdered glance across to check if they are going to encounter anger. A fleeting glance to the floor perhaps to show a flicker of remorse. A look of defiance that rises again to justify their actions.

Adi’s mother with a permanent scowl of anger at the injustice her family suffered. Staying off into the distance reflecting on what might have been if her son had lived.

While the conversations are useful and engaging it is the silence that is the show stealer.

Coming out of the screening I was struck by Adi’s courage, angered by the justification given by killers and heart-broken at a mothers loss.

Mostly though I pondered how each person comes to the conversation in The Look of Silence with a different perspective of something that happened.

When we are wronged, when we are hurt, how so we look at our circumstances?

Do we cling to anger and wish hardship on those who wronged us?

Do we justify away our actions because we are so sure we did or said the right thing?

Or do we attempt to have a conversation. Not for confrontation but to attempt understanding?

The Look of Silence is not an easy watch.

It is however, in my opinion, an essential one.