The Look of Silence

Movie review by
Alistair Lawrence, Common Sense Media
The Look of Silence Movie Poster Image
Indonesian genocide docu sequel has graphic descriptions.
  • PG-13
  • 2015
  • 103 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

None other than some courage, and even compassion, being shown by a family member when they confront their sibling's killers. Killers do not face any negative consequences for their actions. State propaganda shown to pervert the course of history.

Positive Role Models

Adi Rukun, whose brother was a victim of the Indonesian mass killings, attempts to expose the lies perpetuated about that period in history and confronts several people who took part in the atrocities. He shows no obvious anger toward them, nor does he seek any kind of revengs. He also helps some of them by administering eye tests. Archive footage of killers acting out how they killed people. Killers are interviewed and show no remorse for what they've done.

Violence

Teachers and interview subjects recount gory instances of "communists" being killed during Indonesia's mass killings. This includes talk of gouging people's eyes out, slitting their throats, slicing off breasts and genitals with machetes, and drinking their victims' blood. People who committed murders during the mass killings recall how they humiliated and inflicted violence on their victims, acting out these scenes in some cases.

Sex

An elderly person receives sponge baths.

Language

Graphic descriptions of torture and mass killings.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Look of Silence is a powerful documentary about the mass killings in Indonesia that took place during 1965-66. It is the sequel to The Act of Killing and includes multiple references -- in much gory detail -- to some of the atrocities that took place. In some cases, these are acted out by the very people who took part in the violence, who show no remorse for what they've done. The documentary follows Adi Rukun as he attempts to expose the lies surrounding the mass killings, which included the murder of his brother. Some of the violence described includes gouging eyes out, slitting throats, attacking people with machetes, and slicing off women's breasts and men's genitals. The killers also recount how they drank their victims' blood, as they believed it would help avoid them going insane from committing so many murders. There are no sex scenes but one elderly man does appear naked on screen, as he is cared for and receives sponge baths from different family members.

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What's the story?

THE LOOK OF SILENCE is a documentary sequel about Indonesia's mass killings of 1965-66, which took place as part of a military coup. The documentary follows the brother of one of those murdered and explores the mass killings' impact on both his family and modern-day Indonesian society.

Is it any good?

The Look of Silence is the second documentary from Joshua Oppenheimer about Indonesia's mass killings during the 1960s and leaves an even more lasting impression than his first film. It might lack the spectacle of its predecessor, The Act of Killing, but it does take a more balanced approach to investigating the impact of an atrocious military coup that has left its scars on Indonesian society. At the center of the movie is Adi Rukun, whose quiet dignity powers its most memorable scenes. Ageing mass murderers from his region tell him stories about the killings in which they either took part or oversaw, which include the murder of Rukun's brother.

As before, Oppenheimer lets the camera linger on the participants' reactions, a technique he overuses to the point where it is often tedious rather than compelling. But unlike in The Act of Killing, here we see a range of emotional responses play out, from agitation to denial, anger, and grief. The Look of Silence also includes more detail about the West's complicity in the killings. News footage of an American journalist casually accepting a state propagandist's version of events feels almost surreal. As before, things are left open-ended and with no easy resolutions in sight, but then maybe that's the point.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence discussed in The Look of Silence. Did it feel any less shocking that it was talked about rather than shown? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • Were you surprised by how little remorse was shown by those responsible for the killings? What do you think Adi Rukun got from meeting his brother's killers? What were his motivations?

  • How might the mass killings have been reported on TV and online today? What role would social media play?

  • What do you think the documentary is trying to do? How did it compare with the first one? What other documentaries have you seen and what impact did they have on you?

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