The Look of Silence and Indonesia’s Dark Mirror

The Conversation, November 20, 2014

By Intan Paramaditha


But I can’t ignore the power of the director holding up the mirror. He offers a particular frame for me to interpret the image – which implicates me in the power relation.


The Look of Silence

Like its prequel The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Look of Silence holds a mirror to its subjects and viewers who are forced to face a horrifying truth (Image: Lars Skree/Final Cut for Real).


With eyes fixed on his television screen, Adi Rukun, the main character followed by documentary maker Joshua Oppenheimer in his new film, The Look Of Silence, seems to face a mirror that resurrects a nightmarish past.

In the footage that he is watching, two old men sit by the bank of the Snake River and proudly narrate the various killing methods they deployed in Indonesia’s 1965-66 anti-communist massacre. Oppenheimer and his crew were behind the camera, filming.

The men, Amir Hasan and Inong, explain in grisly detail how they murdered Ramli, Adi’s brother. Adi and Ramli never met. Attempting to describe Adi’s reaction would only reveal the limits of our capacity to understand the pain of others. This is, perhaps, the look of silence.


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