7:30 PM, 2nd March, 2016
The Look of Silence is Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to the stunning 2012 documentary The Act of Killing, which focused on the Indonesian death squad killers of the 1960s. In The Act of Killing, Oppenheimer followed the perpetrators of the crimes, miraculously persuading them to act out the murders they had committed. Here, he focuses on the victims.
At the centre of the film is Adi, an ophthalmologist whose brother was killed by the militia just before he was born. Oppenheimer has Adi confront and ‘interview’ the very killers that murdered his brother. In incredibly chilling scenes, Adi tells them his story, reports the facts, sometimes even fits them with glasses, and then listens to them speak. Calmly paced and unnerving, the interviews are laden with uncomfortable halts and pauses, little silences, as the killers try to defend themselves.
The Look of Silence has a more seemingly straightforward and confrontational documentary structure than its forebear. It has less of the kind of detached, surreal moments of The Act of Killing, yet still holds the same piercing, chilling tone. Oppenheimer confronts the savagery and inhumanity of the past in perhaps the only way he sees fit: by simply looking and listening. But what do we really see and hear, he asks, when we confront silence?