People who do bad things, tend to not think that they did anything bad.
A few years ago, Joshua Oppenheimer made a documentary about the Indonesian killings that took place in and around time years of 1965 and 1966, in which people who were accused of being “communists” were all killed and sometimes, never heard from again. What was so strange about all of this, though, was how the people who actually went out and savagely murdered these so-called “communists”, were never put on trial or convicted for what were, seemingly, crimes. Instead, they continue to walk the Earth and live free among any all citizens, most of whom’s relatives, they either killed, or had a hand in killing. That’s why, in 2013, Oppenheimer decided to focus on these murderers, their viewpoints, and recollections of events in the Act of Killing. Now, Oppenheimer wants to turn his camera onto the other side of the discussion where we sit and watch as Adi, middle-aged man, who’s brother, Ramli, apparently was killed during this time, goes around and confronts the known killers for doing what they did and trying his hardest to understand why they did any of it. Obviously, the answers are a lot harder to come by.
The Act of Killing was a very rough watch, for many reasons. One was that it was really hard to sit there and listen to a bunch of known and celebrated killers, basically bragging about all of the people they killed, and do so in some very descriptive, especially gory ways. It’s hard to listen to a guy boast about how many girls he’s slept with, but it’s even harder to listen to someone, who is still walking free mind you, go on and on about people they murdered, the reasons why they did it, and why they feel absolutely no shame or guilt whatsoever.
Another reason why that movie was such a hard watch, too, was the fact that Oppenheimer doesn’t just leave the movie at that point. Instead, he takes it one step further in allowing us to see their inner psyche, as well as their realization with everything that they had done, the pain they caused, and just the actual number of supposed “communists” they had in fact, killed. In a way, that movie wasn’t really asking us to sympathize with these retched and terrible human beings, but more or less to see them as actual human beings.
Was it hard to do? Oh, of course it was!
Did it ultimately work out, though? Somehow, yes.
That’s why with the Look of Silence, Oppenheimer’s viewpoint not only changes, but so does the impact his movie has on the audience. Now, we have someone to sympathize with. Now, we have better questions being asked. And now, most of all, we get to see these countless killers actually get everything thrown in their face, just as they deserve to. While Oppenheimer went to some risky and daring places with the material and footage he was able to get with the Act of Killing, here, he takes a step back and allows for the would-be protagonist, Adi, take over the reigns as interviewer and provocateur, and it really works.
Not only is Adi a sympathetic figure, regardless of what we know about his family and their history, he actually seems like a pretty level-headed guy, even despite the situation he’s been thrown into. All things considered, he could have easily grown-up angry, pissed-off and ready to blow people’s heads away, knowing what he knows about what happened to his brother, but instead, he decided to push all that to the side, focus on the future, and remember that he’s got his own life to live and legacy to maintain, which means that he had to get used to seeing a lot of his brother’s killers, sometimes for work, and other times, just for social situations. It’s actually ridiculous just how much of a tolerance that Adi and, I assume, others need to have when it comes to living in Indonesia, but it also drives home the point that, sometimes, it’s best to just leave things in the past.
In this situation, however, that is not the case.
Adi really does level in to these cast of characters, all of whom are either the killers themselves, or close relatives of said killers, going deeper and further than you’d expect him to go. Sure, his interview style can tend to get very predictable – he starts off with a few softball questions, asks the big, “Why”, shows evidence proving that the killers did in fact, “kill”, they get pissed-off, threaten his life, and the rest starts to teeter-off from there in awkward, but revealing silences. Still though, each and every interview is more and more insightful than the one to come before it, especially when we start to see just how obtuse a lot of these killers are to admitting, face to face, with another person that they had a hand or two in killing a family member. One whom Adi never had the chance to meet, unfortunately enough, but it makes even more sense why he would sink to the certain depths that he does here, trying to scourge up any information he can from these killers, as well as the information left over from the previous movie.
That said, there’s a feeling that the Look of Silence ends at a very abrupt moment. However, this could be intentional.
Seeing as how the movie is, essentially, about the many, countless lives lost in this mass holocaust of sorts, it only makes sense that there’s hardly any “moving forward”, or “looking past” moment; people have died, everybody left on Earth is still around, suffering and sad, and the tension is still felt. While Adi himself realizes that it’s best to look towards the future, he also knows that in order to grow stronger as a community, it’s also best to remember the sort of tragedies and wrong-doings that have been done, in a way to make sure that they never occur again.
Of course, I could also be talking about Germany, the U.S., or any other country out there who has dealt with one moment in their nation’s history that they frown upon and remind its citizens of its significance, but in this particular discussion, Adi reminds Indonesia that not only did his own brother die for, what seem to be, idiotic accusations based nowhere in reality, but remind others as well. That’s why these questions need answers, even if they never actually come. Maybe that’s the point: Life will continue to go on for most of these people, with questions still hanging in the air and over their heads. Nobody will answer them. They’ll just continue to live life, hope it all gets better, and people eventually forget about what happened.
Problem is, nobody will.
Now, who’s fault is that?
Consensus: More emotional and tragic than the its predecessor, the Look of Silence is also, unfortunately, more frustrating with questions intentionally never being answered, but plenty of ideas about society and the human condition still being brought up and left to dangle.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire