The Look of Silence

The Look of Silence

In a society terrorized into silence, the brother of a 1960s Indonesian genocide victim learns the identity of his murderers and confronts them.

Year: 2014
Certificate: 15
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer

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If you’ve read the Netflix description above, you may be mistaken for thinking “The Look of Silence” is an internationally flavoured Hollywood revenge thriller. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Joshua Oppenheimer’s chilling film is a follow-up to his lauded 2012 documentary “The Act of Killing”. “The Look of Silence” acts as companion piece to that film, as it once again deals with the Indonesian genocide of the mid-sixties. This time round, Oppenheimer’s camera focuses on Adi Rukun, a mild-mannered and fiercely intelligent optician whose brother was killed during that cull. Seemingly using contacts built up during the filming of “The Act of Killing”, Oppenheimer offers Adi the chance to sit down with the men responsible for his brother’s death, under the guise of a series of eye exams.

It’s a deeply uncomfortable set-up, but one that makes for a scintillating piece of documentary cinema. Adi will often begin by speaking in general terms about the patient’s involvement in the military regime that ordered the killings. The matter-of-fact responses are gruelling, but Adi delves further still and makes reference to his personal connection to the events.

This is when things get really tough, as death squad members refuse to acknowledge any wrongdoing on their behalf: the endemic ‘silence’ of the title. Yet, throughout, Adi exercises the most immense restraint to just sit and listen. As with every subject we meet, it’s his eyes that tell the truest story.

“The Look of Silence” is a highly personal documentary with vast emotional and political scope, and it left me feeling sick to the stomach. I can imagine it will have a similar effect on others.

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About Benedict

Freelance culture journalist and Film Studies graduate. Netflix is his happy place.

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