Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.
Essentially, we are visiting a lot of the same people who planned and executed the military coup in Indonesia, people who are still in power in many cases and continue to think of themselves as heroes routing out communists. As I say, this is much more personal, though, because here we’re going to follow the journey of one man (someone roughly my age) confronting the men who admit to having killed his brother.
The man in question is anonymous in the film to protect his identity, but the IMDB page lists him as Adi Rukun. He’s a brave man. During the course of the film, he gets close to the various perpetrators of the atrocities in Indonesia by giving eye exams to the men in question. While he checks their eyes, he asks them about the revolution in the mid-1960s and probes as much as he can for answers. That he is accused of being a communist (all of the killings were done under the pretense of the victims being communists) does not dissuade him from asking further. That the people he is question likely have the power to silence him doesn’t deter him, either. That one of the men responsible is his own uncle, and thus the uncle of his slaughtered brother Ramli makes all of these even more horrifying.
Now, I like horror movies as much or more than the next person, and probably more than the next person. Part of the reason for that is that I know it’s all staged and fake. Sure, some of it is truly horrifying, but it’s still movie magic and stagecraft. This isn’t. This is really people talking about hacking people apart with machetes, removing heads and carrying them around to frighten people, an slitting throats, catching the blood in glasses, and drinking it in the belief that doing so will keep them from going crazy.
Much of the power of The Look of Silence comes specifically from the fact that most of the families of the killers know nothing about what their fathers/husbands/uncles/grandfathers did during the mass slaughter of a million people. In many cases, these conversations are the first they knew of their relatives’ participation in the killings. Adi Rukun’s mother, for instance, was unaware that her brother oversaw the incarceration of her murdered son or that he was likely the person who loaded her son onto a truck to be killed.
What makes the film truly horrifying, though, is the complete lack of remorse. In virtually every case, the interviewee talks about the importance of what they did and how they have no regrets regarding the murder of an estimated one million people. The minute that Rukun tells them that his brother was one of those killed, and that his brother was specifically killed in a truly horrifying manner, they back off. They deny memory of the event even when they are shown literal footage of them talking about the events. It is as ive the thought of regret only really happens the moment they realize that the people they killed were actually people with lives and families who loved them.
The Look of Silence is clearly not an easy film to watch, and it’s not supposed to be one. There is a sense of seeing something along the lines of Shoah here, although the testimony that happens comes not from the survivors among the victims, but from those who did the actual killing. It is a look into the depths of depravity the human mind can descend into, and a reminder that those depths may in fact be bottomless.
As with The Act of Killing, this is not a film I’d want to watch again. I think it’s likely that the earlier film was removed from the book to make room for this one, and I’m not sure that’s the right choice, even if I understand it. On the other hand, watching this much footage of people boasting about their own atrocities is not an experience I’d like to have a second time.
Why to watch The Look of Silence: We need to be reminded of the evil that human beings are capable of.
Why not to watch: It's nightmare-inducing ugly.