***1/2 stars out of ****
Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2013 documentary The Act of Killing explored the Indonesian genocide in the 1960s. The perpetrators killed at least half a million people in 1965-66 (estimates vary) and got away scot free. In that film, Oppenheimer talked to the men behind it. It’s an eerie, unsettling film - imagine if the Nazis had won World War II then appeared in a documentary decades later rationalizing their acts.
While it generally received rave reviews, some criticized it for giving mass murderers a mouthpiece. Oppenheimer says he always planned on making The Look of Silence, but the film still feels in many ways to be a response to that criticism. Here, an optometrist named Adi, whose brother was murdered in especially horrifying fashion during the genocide, confronts the now old men responsible.
Adi’s questions are met with a mixture of defiance, denial, threats, and an attitude of “let the past be the past.” But the film explores the ways in which that platitude is far easier said than done for families who’ve been touched by horror. Adi knows his quest for answers may be a quixotic one, but he plods defiantly along anyway.
Like its predecessor, The Look of Silence is not easy viewing (don’t watch it if you’re already depressed or sad), but it is essential viewing.