The Look of Silence

The Look of Silence ★★★★½

The past is the past, it is best left there, closed up to remain untouched. This is a sentiment we hear again and again in Joshua Oppenheimer's second film on the Indonesian genocide, spoken by the survivors and their families, as well as the perpetrators and their relatives. Survival is inherently intertwined with suffering however it is inflicted and that lies at the heart of this painful journey.

The director is far more blunt in his approach compared to the surreal reconstructions of the first film. We see Indonesia's past and future through the eyes of optical specialist Adi, his brother slain under the military rule, now searching for a sense of closure to the bitterness that has enveloped his family for half a century. We learn how that period of brutality still shapes the future of children learning about their past and how the men who committed the crimes have come to live with what took place.

Adi's parents are both around a century old themselves (although his father says he is 17), their face and bodies bearing the brunt of years of physical and mental graft. His mother still grieves for her son Ramli, unable to forgive those who butchered him so mercilessly, his fathers dementia most likely sparing him the same trauma. Ramli's death was particularly vicious but because his killers still hold literal and figurative power, no punishment has ever been handed out.

Oppenheimer's camera follows Adi, as his job allows him to meet with the foot soldiers and commanders responsible for the massacre. He is remarkably measured and calm in how he gently probes these old men, despite being accused of being a communist himself and listening to stories of how some, like Inong, drank the blood of their victims, to avoid going 'crazy'. Time and again Adi is met with resistance once his questions overstep boundaries they deem acceptable, choosing to keep any obligations toward their history rooted firmly there.

A meeting with another killer and his daughter brings out a truth she was unaware of. 'Sadistic' she says. Adi's mother learns that her brother was a prison guard overseeing those taken off to their deaths, including her own son. Horrible truths that you wish they never had to hear but an essential part of cleansing out the decades of lies and untruths.

These death squads were under instruction by the military, themselves used as pawns in a far larger political game. Their refusal to address past actions demonstrates not the evil of man but the poisonous stranglehold of male pride that stops them openly admitting and facing the monsters they unleashed. Oppenheimer's use of Adi's investigative search is simply devastating, spanning a generational network coming to terms with the horrors buried in their recent history. A journey that will sadly have to be made by countless others, as time has a nasty habit of unraveling the bitter truth in the end.

Block or Report

Steven liked these reviews