The Look of Silence: Transparent Apparatus

Aug 20, 2015 by Nickelodeon on The Nickelodeon Blog

The Look of Silence will screen on Monday, August 24 at 7:00 PM, as part of our recurring Docs Now! series. David Whiteman and Laura Kissel will moderate a TalkBack discussion after the film. Purchase advance tickets HERE.

The queasy, brilliant, and totally novel documentary The Act of Killing had somewhere close to zero cinematic precedents. A postmodern ShoahThe Fog of War inside an inverted The Thin Blue Line of incriminating pageantry, director Joshua Oppenheimer asked a perpetrator of the Indonesian genocide of 1965-66 to recreate his murders, on camera, as part of a fictionalized (and fictional) film. One of the ethical quandaries of that earlier work was its metacinematic obsession, as if the question of film’s capacities as both artistic tool to confront historical traumas and as aestheticizing method of alienation, dissolving the link between self and world and thus self and responsibility, were somehow equal to the question of theodicy.

The Look of Silence, Oppenheimer’s follow-up, reframes The Act of Killing‘s questions in an excruciatingly intimate setting, a chamber piece to the earlier opera. He focuses on a single man, Adi, living in Indonesia since his brother was killed in the genocide. Under the guise of optometrical appointments, he sits across from the men who killed his brother, or may as well have. With a medical apparatus attached to their faces designed to fix eyesight, the perpetrators look both physically vulnerable and like cartoon villains. Adi quickly drops any hippocratic pretensions and grills them on their involvement in the genocide, sometimes demanding that they take responsibility, sitting there, blindsided. In opposition to The Act of Killing‘s moral voyeurism, The Look of Silence plays more like a courtroom drama teetering on the edge of violence.

In fact, many of the interrogations would certainly end in flurries of bloodshed if this were a fictional film. But this isn’t, and they don’t. The perpetrators are, in many cases, politicians, or at least respected citizens. The film is filled with sublimated threats, but the possibility of death remains, as ever for the living, inherent yet unrealized, distant but acutely felt, visible if only you had the right lens by which to see it. In The Act of Killing, that would be a camera lens; in The Look of Silence, it’s close, physical, personal: the crystalline lens of the eye, damaged.

—Mike Opal