Between 1965 and 1966, there was an anti-communist purge in Indonesia that left almost a million people dead. Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2012 film “The Act of Killing” had the perpetrators of the genocide reenact the murders that took place, hoping that empathy for the victims will be gained in the process. His newest film “The Look of Silence” isn’t as conceptually powerful as “The Act of Killing,” but is arguably the more sympathetic of the two as it gives a voice to the survivors. In the film, Adi, an optometrist, grills the murderers under the guise of an eye exam, often forcing them to take responsibility for their actions. Adi speaks partially from a place of vengeance but also genuine curiosity for open communication, to address ugly history and unfortunate realities. Like “The Act of Killing,” critics have roundly praised “The Look of Silence” for its open-eyed depiction of grief and atrocity, and of searching for justice in the form of honesty. It’s a film worthy of our attention.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Matt Prigge, Metro
Like Adi, Oppenheimer’s film is interested in talking and understanding and having people take responsibility, but not interested in revenge. Haunting “Silence” is the idea that nothing can correct the past; those killed have been killed, and punishing those who’ve committed crimes — even those considered war crimes under the Geneva convention, as here — won’t bring them back. What it is interested in is a deeper understanding of what drives innocent people to do grisly deeds. Read more.
Farran Smith Nehme, New York Post
Joshua Oppenheimer’s previous documentary, the superb “The Act of Killing,” focused on the genocide’s perpetrators, who remain in power. As the title indicates, this follow-up is dealing with a somewhat blunter set of symbols than its predecessor. It’s just as wrenching, though, and in a single scene with the daughter of a murderer, even manages to offer a faint pinpoint of hope. Read more.
Scott Beggs, Film School Rejects
If “Act of Killing” was a Bizarro Land journey through the minds of aging monsters, “Look of Silence” is a grounded walk with a brave victim coming to terms with what they did to his family. It’s impossible to overstate how amazing and vital this movie is. After I saw it, someone asked if it ruined my day, and while it certainly has a crushing impact, Rukun’s tenderness and patience also offer a great deal of hope. A counterbalance to atrocity. There are bad men in every country, but there are good men in every country, too. Read more.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Compared to “The Act of Killing,” Oppenheimer’s technique with “The Look of Silence” is deceptively simple, but it applies a more traditional style of documentary storytelling to extraordinary goals. Oppenheimer contextualizes Adi’s plight by fleshing out his family life: He regularly cares for his 103-year-old father, a wizened, senile shell of a man who thinks he’s still a teenager, while keeping his weak-willed mother at bay. While she tenderly recalls losing her other son, her reticence to discuss it strikes a notable contrast with Adi’s desire for confrontation. But Adi, who lives a humble life with his children of his own, feels a different sort of pressure. Oppenheimer shows us footage of Adi’s son receiving propagandistic lectures at school, where he’s taught that the genocidal antics were justified. As a result, “The Look of Silence” chronicles a generational shift terms — from complaisance to activism — through an intimate lens. Adi’s sense of responsibility is personal. Read more.
A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club
“Do you want revenge?” someone asks Adi late into the movie. While the doctor insists that’s not what he’s after, there’s a distinctly vengeful slant to some of his crusade, particularly the moment where he confronts the surviving family members of a dead perpetrator — a man who celebrated Ramli’s murder in ghastly picture-book form — with the horrible knowledge of what their father and husband did in ’65. Whether this is fair play or not is a tricky question. What matters is that Adi’s campaign of open discussion, his determination to address the elephant in every room, ultimately scans as a good-faith attempt at building a new Indonesia — a country ready, ideally, to address and atone for its past mistakes. It may be too late to coax a confession of culpability — a moral awakening, really — out of the human monsters the film puts on trial. But for Indonesia’s younger citizens, like the gangster’s daughter who apologizes on behalf of her unapologetic father, reconciliation seems possible. “The Look Of Silence” is a powerful gesture of political rebellion, one whose boldest action isn’t damning mass murderers to their faces, but being willing to believe that their stranglehold on country and history could be broken. Read more.