Movie review: ‘Look of Silence’ follows one man’s search for truth
A terrifying study in mass moral rationalization, “The Look of Silence” finds documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer returning to the subject matter of his Oscar-nominated “The Act of Killing.”
That film was about the slaughter of some 1 million “communists” in Indonesia in the mid-’60s. Oppenheimer met with some of the many killers — none of whom were ever punished and who mostly consider themselves heroes — and had them re-enact the murders they committed. It was grisly and at times surreal.
There’s nothing surreal about “The Look of Silence”; it’s painfully real. In it, Oppenheimer follows a possibly foolish brave man named Adi as Adi searches out the many people responsible for the particularly gruesome slaughter of his brother, Ramli, who was killed before Adi was even born.
Understand, the murderers, who were encouraged by the government, have lived right alongside the families of the people they killed for going on 50 years. Many have become rich and powerful. The slaughter is taught as a positive thing in elementary school. One killer even wrote a book — with illustrations! — about his exploits.
Adi is an optician of some sort, so he often uses eye tests as a ruse to get the killers talking. He quickly finds that none of them express regret. Meanwhile, Oppenheimer seeks out the two men who actually killed Ramli, and they happily take him to the riverside site of the murder and re-enact it. Then they pose smiling for a snapshot.
Oppenheimer also spends a great deal of time with Adi’s parents — his blind, senile 103-year-old father and still-grieving, bitter mother. Their rustic village world and the beautiful tropic setting serve as odd contrast to the countless tales of violence.
It’s not really clear exactly what Adi is hoping to accomplish — he’s unearthing truth, sure, but no one seems to care much. It’s as if an entire country has just agreed to forget, or rewrite, its own awful history. This leaves Adi quietly, politely, listening to horror stories, even as you sense the seething outrage behind his eyes. “The Look of Silence” is so disturbing because so few people in it seem disturbed.
‘The Look of Silence’
Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving disturbing graphic descriptions of atrocities and inhumanity
Running time: 103 minutes