Another Difficult Watch

Last year I urged those of you with strong stomachs to see Joshua Oppenheimer’s superb but harrowing documentary, The Act Of Killing. I must now repeat that plea in respect of his companion-piece, The Look of Silence.

Whereas The Act Of Killing focused directly on the government-sponsored killers and the wider picture of what happened in the Indonesian military dictatorship from 1965, The Look of Silence follows the brother of one butchered person as he meets those involved in his death. It is a calmer look at both what happened and the current situation, in which killers and victims’ families live side-by-side and school teaches the murdered man’s nephew and his classmates that those killed were the bad guys, being ‘communist’ and ‘not religious’.

It’s worth noting that in 1967 – the same year that all that wonderful music was made in the freedom-loving USA – NBC was reporting how successful the Indonesian government was being in its eradication of communists, calmly noting how some were deliberately starved to death, whilst others were executed, etc. The mundanity of evil covers the planet.

7 thoughts on “Another Difficult Watch

  1. I still haven’t got round to watching The Act of Killing. Missed it at the cinema and only caught on to it when the Graun made it their film of the year. I’m guessing that it doesn’t really matter in which order the two films are watched so a visit to the Curzon Renoir may be in order.

    • I don’t know if the order matters but they do form a pair, both in viewpoint and tone. There’s more context in the first film but still enough in this one for you to know that it’s one of thousands of similar stories. A million ‘communists’ were killed by the army and gangster militias from 1965.

  2. I can remember plenty of TV news reports on “unrest” around the world when I was growing up and the tone of them was always framed in a pro-Western, anti-Communist way. It seemed accepted that whatever pro-Western governments did, it was done in the name of freedom and democracy. The authoritarian nature and corruption of their governments was swept under the carpet.

    • I vividly remember the swell of anti-American feeling in the mid-Sixties, around Vietnam. But I had no knowledge of what happened in Indonesia until The Act Of Killing came along decades later. It was a very effective process of fear and propaganda, still operating today.

  3. Chris: I tried to follow your suggestions re. Act of Killing but I just couldn’t deal with it, I watched about 15 mins and then switched off; I don’t think I’ll be trying #2 either.

  4. Thanks for this Chris, didn’t know about it, but will definitely be checking it out. The Act of Killing stayed with me for a long while after I watched it, so a slightly calmer companion piece sounds really interesting.

    • This one is almost a quiet, Zen-like meditation. The power comes from the astonishingly dignified way in which the victim’s brother interacts with those involved, while they – for the most part – have the familiar inhumanity seen in TAOK.

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