‘The Look of Silence’
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
5 (out of 5) Globes
“The Look of Silence” doesn’t look or feel like “The Act of Killing.” That documentary, to which “Silence” is less a sequel than a companion film, was audacious, darkly comic and relentlessly horrifying. This one is quiet, patient and more deeply haunting. It also arguably does something even ballsier, and may even speak more to our understanding of evil — one of the least understood, and therefore easily repeatable, apparent mainstays of life. The two films need each other, and probably need to have come in this order: “The Act of Killing” to get you to notice its once obscure subject, the 1965 Indonesian genocide; this one to take it even further. “The Look of Silence” knows it has your attention and can therefore do something that’s just as brazen, albeit in a way that seems deceptively modest.
“The Act of Killing” had a great hook, if you will: Director Joshua Oppenheimer, Austin-born, talked to the men who did the deeds. A half century ago the then new-military government had hired paramilitary and gangsters to wipe out anyone suspected of being a communist. The body count rose to around a million, if not much higher. Oppenheimer found dozens of perpetrators, only they weren’t afraid to talk to him, and on camera; in fact, they were boastful, bragging about oft-indescribably grisly deeds. Oppenheimer even had them recreate certain killings in the vein of their favorite movie genres: gangster movies, Westerns, garish musicals. They weren’t ashamed; as far as the history books went, at least in Indonesia, they were the victors — badass heroes who saved the country, not homicidal maniacs who, in some cases, were personally responsible for over 1000 dead.
“The Look of Silence” is, in many ways, “Killing”’s inverse. Its hook is that it’s the survivors who speak to the perpetrators, directly — bravely, maybe foolishly and maybe even foolhardily. Our guide is Adi Rukun, who never met the older brother slaughtered during the genocide; in fact, he was born because his parents wanted to have another child after the one before was murdered. While tending to his elderly parents, who have for 50 years been unable to speak out about what happened, Adi uses the high-powered connections Oppenheimer made while making “Killing” to get himself in rooms with men who committed heinous deeds and ask them about it straight.