VOD Review – The Look of Silence (Oscar Nominee)
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 88th Academy Awards, it’s the follow-up to a non-fiction film nominated at the 86th Academy Awards. It’s not often that a documentary gets a sequel, but while filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer was shooting his Oscar-nominated work, The Act of Killing (2013), he had the foresight to shoot this sequel, which is an alternate point-of-view and not as theatrical or histrionic.
The premise is the simple, historical fact that in 1965, the Indonesian government was almost overthrown by a radical group that assassinated six generals. The very large, Communist party was blamed and so the Indonesian military began arresting and killing any and all believed to be Communist, resulting in one million murders, according to some estimates. Those murders were known as the “communist purge” and because the head of the military won his political campaign for president, none of the murderers were ever punished. Over 40 years later, some of the murderers are still alive and living among or near the families of their victims.
In his previous film The Act of Killing, Oppenheimer interviewed those murderers. Many, if not all don’t harbor any guilt about what they did. Most, if not all even brag about it. Oppenheimer captured that and created one of the greatest documentaries of all time, immersing us in the minds of these murderers, putting us in their points of view, even in their fantasies. This film is the reverse. It puts us in the points-of-view of the victims, or at least the families of the victims.
Specifically, Oppenheimer puts us in the POV of a 44-year-old man, not really identified but referred to as “Adi.” Adi says his brother Ramli was a victim. His brother was murdered in those late 60’s killings. Adi works as an optometrist, although that might just be a cover. He does so by going around with a portable device to give eye-exams. It allows him to visit the murderers with an ulterior motive of questioning them about the killings. When he’s not doing that, he’s caring for his elderly parents, particularly his handicapped father who is over 100 years-old but thinks he’s 16 or 17.
This might be a bit of a spoiler, but the title of the film comes from the image and sound of Adi as he watches footage of his brother’s killer. Whereas Oppenheimer made great use of spectacle in his previous effort, here he really makes great use of silence, the quiet of it all. Whether it’s people literally not speaking or it’s what not being said even when people are speaking, or it’s people not being able to hear or refusing to hear certain things.
There is a power to the silence and the implications of some of it are at times haunting or jaw-dropping. It works well as a companion piece to The Act of Killing as a kind of balance, but it also works as a stand-alone. The previous film isn’t required viewing, but it still makes this film pale by comparison.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving disturbing graphic descriptions of atrocities and inhumanity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins.
Available online via Amazon Instant, iTunes and other VOD platforms.