The Look of Silence

The Look of Silence

Something happened at a screening of The Look of Silence.

Packed house. People were sitting in the dim room prescreening, in that nice little anticipatory void when the screen is black and the house lights haven't quite gone out.

"This is the kind of movie people go alone to," said one woman, a couple rows ahead of me to her four companions. I nodded. Completely alone in the theater, social dictates mandated that I keep my thoughts to myself.

The lights went out. Rapt silence descended for a little over an hour and a half, a time that at once felt so much quicker and so much longer. The screen eventually fades to black, after this horrifying depiction of the lengths to which anyone will go to justify their genocide. The victims had no religion. I was only a guard. It isn't my responsibility. It isn't my responsibility. It isn't my responsibility. One final time, we hear Adi's father's begin to sing. But this time, we do not see him. His voice only, as the name of Joshua Oppenheimer begins to crawl up the screen.

And then, a pattern. Co-producer: Anonymous. Camera operator: Anonymous. Assistant director: Anonymous. For the first time I have seen, no one in the audience stirs as the credits slowly work their way to the top of the screen and out of sight. A silent vigil, or a communal prayer of hope? This is a film that, pragmatically, should not have been made. Just like it is pragmatic to not question your duty when Those In Charge tell you to watch the prisoners. But it is a film that needed to be made. Is it a protest? An account? A testament? Or a simple document, as the name of its genre seems to attest?

Calling The Look of Silence merely a documentary is horrifying in and of itself. It is a document of life, a recounting of this place, this time. In essence, "this is something that happens." And it does happen. Germany in the 1940s. Czechoslovakia. Cambodia. Darfur. Armenia. Rwanda. The history of genocide is the history of the human race. The Look of Silence is a documentary. A document of life. A recounting of place, and of time. But it is not an anomaly.

And there will always be another, looming on the horizon. As one of the murderers in the Look of Silence threateningly intones - don't stir up trouble. Or there could be another. And so, that co-producer remains Anonymous. That camera operator remains Anonymous. That assistant director remains Anonymous. They are the personification of the promise of further torture, further mourning, further death, further pain. Adi searches for meaning, for forgiveness (?), for release from pain, but his search is futile. No one takes responsibility. How can anyone? To acknowledge one's role in the murder of a million is to acknowledge one's disassociation from humanity. Or, more chillingly and more likely, to acknowledge one's humanity.

In that dimly lit room before the projector turned on, people were talking. About their favorite movie (Boogie Nights, said a man behind me. Inglorious Basterds, said the woman he was with. She had been in Europe for several years. This was their reunion.) And when the lights finally came back up, when one soul set the world back in motion by rising from the theater chair, no one spoke. The audience shuffled out. Groups had entered the theater together, but as that woman had prophetically said two hours before - everyone left the theater alone.

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