The Look Of Silence
This article originally appeared on TimeOut
Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2012 documentary, The Act Of Killing, had a profound impact on modern Indonesia. By having perpetrators re-enact their killings, the film shed light on the national perception of the 1965-66 communist genocide, in which nearly one million innocent Indonesians were brutally murdered. The film revealed a modern climate that celebrated these killers, who have faced no retribution whatsoever. The Look Of Silence is Oppenheimer’s companion piece to The Act Of Killing, the other side of the coin. It’s a devastating look at the continued suppression of the victims’ families and a country unwilling to take ownership for their past atrocities.
The film follows Adi Rukun, an optician whose brother, Ramli, was maimed and murdered in the killings. Throughout the film he interviews each of the men responsible for the murder, from death squad leaders to current politicians and even an uncle, who was a guard at the death camp in which Ramli was imprisoned. These conversations are raw, immediate and incredibly painful, with each of the interviewees utterly unwilling to shoulder the responsibility themselves, instead pushing the blame onto the system at large. Adi is seeking an acknowledgement for the crimes committed against his family and he never finds it. Each of the perpetrators feel that they’ve come down on the right side of history and yet, for the victims, the past is still an open wound with no hope of healing.
Where The Act Of Killing was loud, horrifically proud and vibrant, The Look Of Silence is devoid of almost all stylisation. The film plays out without music or artifice, an enforced silence akin to that of the victims. There is one visual motif, of perpetrators wearing corrective glasses, that doubles as the film’s potent metaphor. As an optician and the subject of the documentary, Adi is looking to correct a distorted vision of the past. Whether he’s successful or not depends entirely on a national overhaul of Indonesia’s social and political climate. Hope that this far quieter and subtler film has the same impact as its predecessor.