The Look of Silence - Peering into the Shady Grey Depths
A Review by: Jeff Turner
Dir: Joshua Oppenheimer
We often use movies for escapism. We want to see action, mayhem! However, a film will come along that focuses on the fragility of mortality, and the permanency of death. Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow up to THE ACT OF KILLING (which I unfortunately did not see) focuses on these things alongside the destruction murder leaves in its wake and the lives it affects.
In THE ACT OF KILLING, Oppenheimer interviewed the perpetrators of genocide in Indonesia that occurred in 1965-1966. Hundreds were slaughtered daily. In LOOK OF SILENCE, Oppenheimer films a family member of one of the victims interviewing the same people. Picture those atrocious “Teens React” videos, only about genocide. Throughout the film, this man is shown interviews from ACT OF KILLING to parallel his own. The film focuses on how he and his family have suffered knowing that they have lived to the people who killed their family member.
One thought I had regarded the title, what does the look of silence mean? Does it refer to the regret of the murderers? Or the experience of a family member of one of the victims interacting with these men? The look of silence, a look of shame that says more than any word ever could, a look of disgust that could never heal. These are looks that these people can merely bury.
The film is paced slowly, but retains your interest throughout. It’s a tough sit, but not because it is a bad movie. It is a tough sit in the same way that LEAVING LAS VEGAS or REQUIEM FOR A DREAM are tough sits. The movie’s subject matter is very raw and depressing. It’s a stone cold bummer. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year, and easily one of the most important. I’m not sure I want to see it again.
THE LOOK OF SILENCE does an excellent job at examining tyrannical power structures. The people running the government are not to be trusted, they are the people that did the slaughtering. The politicians misinform, as do the teachers, and they do it without hesitating. History is written by the winners. It shows the living quarters that those who suffered as a result of the genocide perpetrated by their government and how they are forced into submission.
The film plays like a documentary, but at the same time it feels like one of those documentaries you see that’s telling a story of its very own. There is a narrative structure here, as well as a thematic heft. This man who is interviewing his brother’s murderers has a character arc. There are themes about the monstrous depths people are able to reach for the sake of “protecting the state” or for “patriotism.”
While there’s plenty about THE LOOK OF SILENCE that’s disheartening, there is also a display of human resilience that few have the opportunity to show in their lifetimes. While they have suffered a great deal, and have lost family members due to a handful of greedy people seeking to maintain power, they have persevered. They have found solace when their sociology told them no, and they have survived. The cinematography is striking and vibrant, despite the film’s grim subject matter, it never look as such. This message of human strength is what THE LOOK OF SILENCE aims to show us; that death is devastating, that people never truly recover, and that these same people can rise up and make it out regardless.