The Look of Silence

August 4, 2015 at 7:07 pm | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

This is the follow up to the unnervingly brilliant 2013 documentary “The Act of Killing” (you can read my review here). That stands as one of the most remarkable documentaries I have seen in recent memory. In it, we learn about the Indonesian genocide of 1965 from the actual perpetrators as they act out their brutality for the camera, as though they were making a Hollywood movie. It is shocking and brilliant. In his follow up, director Joshua Oppenheimer, shifts his lens toward the victims. Or, in this case, one victim in particular. Adi was born 2 years after the brutal torture and murder of his brother Ramli. He is the consolation child his parents had in order to try and heal. Now a door-to-door glasses salesman, Adi cannot let go of the fact that nobody was punished for this crime and all the killers remain in power, even while be completely open about what they did. In fact, several scenes show Adi watching the video of Ramli’s two killers joke and laugh while they describe in graphic detail how they killed him. The film follows his attempts to confront these men and their bosses in the Komando Aksi (the paramilitary goon squad responsible for most of the slaughter). In the guise of fitting them for glasses, Adi gently but firmly tries to force them to take moral responsibility for their actions and to apologize. Be warned, this is a heart-wrenching and brutal film. Not only do we hear the killers describe again and again what they did to Ramli, we also hear his mother talk about the experience in graphic detail. “The Act of Killing,” as horrifying as it was, created a strange distance from the brutality by being so bizarre and fantastical. Here, there is no veil between the audience and the pain. In the final moments of the film, I felt exhausted by the rawness of it all. I can’t remember seeing a more personal documentary about the brutality of war. Like his first film, Oppenheimer leaves open difficult questions about evil, redemption and forgiveness. All Adi and his family wants is an apology. At one point, he says he wants to forgive. These people are his neighbors. They are a community. He just wants acknowledgement for what was done in the past and then to heal and move on. Can that happen? The film has two competing metaphors that play throughout. One is of Adi’s elderly father, blind, death, and disabled. He is weak and needs constant care. In one painful scene, he drags himself around a room, disoriented and scared. He thinks he is lost in another man’s house and the owner will be angry when he finds him. He calls out for help without response. The other metaphor is in the first and final scenes of the film: we see tiny chrysalis popping around on a floor as their contents slowly change into butterflies. Images of despair and hope. How will Indonesians deal with the aftermath of the genocide, now in its fiftieth year? Blind, lost and afraid? Or emerging transformed and stronger? Nobody yet knows the answer.

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