Sunday, August 02, 2015

"The Look of Silence": a young eye doctor quizzes parents, older generations in Indonesia about 1965 "anti-Communist" purges as he treats them


Joshua Oppenheimer has followed up (on “The Act of Killing”) with a very personal “The Look of Silence”, where he films Adi, a youthful-looking (but 44-year-old) optician interviewing elderly family members and their cohorts about their roles in the horrific “anti-Communist” purges in Indonesia back in 1965 as a military government took over.

Most shocking is the appearance of Adi’s father, heaving scarred, gaunt, demented, even without underarm or private hair.  Adi is attentive to his parents, while he grills them about the death of his brother, and interviews other patients about their personal moral culpability in what had gone on a half century before. These activities had included cutting off sexual parts of both men and women before they died.

The film could be seen as a study or perspective in personal moral accountability, when belonging to a group that one knows is doing bad things.  Yet, one must be loyal to the group.

There was the idea that the “communists” didn’t believe in God or Allah, but that wasn’t really true.
   
The history is ironic, as at the time the United States, under LBJ, was just getting involved in Vietnam and would learn how brutal communist guerrilla war in SE Asia would be, and that would lead to my own conscription in Feb. 1968, although I did not go to Vietnam.

Oppenheimer’s camera captures both the squalor of western Indonesia (near the damage area from the tsunami) and the lush natural beauty of the land.  He often dawdles on images of jumping beans.
   
Most of the credits in the film are anonymous, showing that even today people fear reprisals from Indonesia’s government.  The title of the film reflects the half-century silence of the family members throughout adulthood about their complicity decades before. They seem to be very little bothered by conscience, until Adi brings up the their pasts to them. 
  

The official site is here (Drafhouse films, and Participant Media, along with Final Cut for Real, digital video).  Producers included Werner Herzog, Erol Morris and Andre Singer.

I saw the film late Sunday afternoon before a fair audience at Landmark E Street in downtown Washington DC. 
  
Picture: Lakeland FL, 2015, personal visit.

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