ByPaul Donovan, writer at
A jerk with an opinion. An explorer of transgressive cinema. See more things about movies at
Paul Donovan

Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, this is an excruciating tragedy that's almost hard to believe.

1. In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown by a part of the military, which resulted in the murder of about a million people. This act of genocide was pretty much ignored by the world (including Indonesia itself), and became the subject of Joshua Oppenheimer's brain-melting 2012 documentary, The Act of Killing. In that movie, the killers (who are still in power today) were interviewed. They freely spoke of the tortures and murders they committed. They even re-enacted their crimes, sometimes in the style of a Hollywood movie. Note: for my thoughts on The Act of Killing, see HERE.

2. The Look of Silence is kind of a sequel to The Act of Killing, but it would be more accurate to say it's the other half of it. The main subject of this documentary is Adi Runkun, a village eye doctor who met Oppenheimer during the filming of Killing. Runkun saw some of Oppenheimer's interviews and realized that a couple of the killers were the ones that tortured and murdered his older brother. So Runkun decided to give free eye exams to his brother's killers, and then confront them with what they did. Oppenheimer agreed to film the "interviews", and the killers allowed it because they still trusted him (this film was completed before The Act of Killing was released in theaters).

3. This film does not have the surreal, reality-warping shock value of The Art of Killing. Instead, it goes in the opposite direction. It zooms all the way in to look at one family still dealing with the aftereffects of genocide, 50 years later. It's a somber meditation on different kinds of silence: denial, fear, victim-hood, history, and shame.

4. Most of the Indonesian cast and crew are listed as "Anonymous" in the credits, because they are afraid they will be killed if people know they helped make this movie.

5. Runkun risked his life to do these confrontations (he had to move after he finished the movie). It's amazing to watch him approach the killers and their families. It's just as agonizing to watch him learn that the problems were closer to him than he thought.

6. The movie kind of eats at you like an acid mist. It starts out being slow moving, maybe even a little irritating. And then about halfway through, you realize the movie has melted through your skin and is disintegrating your bones.

7. Oppenheimer turns the rules of documentary film-making upside down. He doesn't pretend he's not there. The people in the film don't ignore him or the camera. Some of the people being interviewed talk directly to him, even though he's not in the shot. And while the conversations are natural, the physical set-up of some of the scenes is very obviously staged. Oppenheimer transforms documentaries into art.

8. Although the movie is made up almost entirely of conversations, there are several scenes that have burned themselves into my mind and will probably never leave.

9. I know this film sounds totally fake, but it's not. It's an extraordinary achievement, and will change the way you see the world. It deserves any award it wins. It's also utterly depressing and can make you lose faith in humanity. After it was over, I just wanted to be by myself and not talk to anyone.

If you have anything to add about this film that took away my speech, add it below.


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