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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Look of Silence

The Look of Silence, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, is not so much a sequel as a companion to his previous film, The Act of Killing. Whereas that first film dealt with the history of the slaughter of perhaps a million people in Indonesia after an army coup, The Look of Silence is about how those killings still affect the nation today.

After having seen the first film, the act of watching now old men brag and giggle about how they brutally murdered "communists" has lost some of its sting--it's still hard to take, but I was prepared for it. This time, Oppenheimer has enlisted an optician, known only as Adi, to do the interviewing. Adi, born in 1968, had an older brother who he never knew killed during the 1965 purge. He watches, impassively, at videotape interviews of his brother's killers. He tends to his ancient parents (his father may be over 100 years old) and his own children with love.

But when he visits those who are responsible for his brother's death he is passionless and probing. Most of them are old men, and still treated like heroes (the government that sponsored the killing is still in power--Oppenheimer can not safely return to Indonesia and the film's credit are full of "Anonymouses") and gladly tell Adi, who is making them eyeglasses (the use of vision is a wonderful metaphor handed to Oppenheimer on a silver platter) what happened, but when he points out inconsistencies, or call them on their moral relativisim, they get defensive. One man, who mentions how he drank the blood of his victims to keep from going crazy. gets into a snit when Adi mentions that Islam does not teach killing. The man asks him why he's getting so deep with his questions, and to stop talking politics. Another man is the head of the legislature, who responds to Adi's talk of morals by saying that if he doesn't want the killing to start again, he should leave the past alone.

The scenes get more chilling as the movie progresses. He visits a man who is either senile or just clueless, along with his daughter. She states that she is proud of her father and the respect he receives. But when Adi tells her his brother was killed, and the old man confesses that he drank the blood of his victims, an amazing array of emotions cross her face. She apologizes. It would seem her world was shattered.

Finally, Adi visits his own uncle, who was a prison guard during that time. He is asked why he didn't save the brother. "They would have killed me!" he protests, but Adi doesn't let him off the hook, and tells him he is morally responsible for his death. I don't think there will be too many family gatherings after this one.

What really stings, as an American, is a clip from a 1967 NBC News report, in which a reporter interviews one of the killers, who tells him that the communists asked to die. The reporter doesn't question such a preposterous lie. The reporter says that Indonesia was where communists were dealt they're biggest defeat. Of course, most, if not all, of the victims were no such things.

The 20th century may well go down in world history as the century of slaughter. We know about Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Rwanda and many other places. Let's not forget Indonesia.

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