The Look of Silence
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In 1965 in Indonesia, almost one million citizens were butchered by death squads, accused of being “communists”. In 2012, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer made the multi-award-winning ‘The Act of Killing’, a series of interviews with death-squad leaders in which the men recount their involvement in this mass murder. Two years later, Oppenheimer returned to the subject, this time following an unnamed man in his 40s whose brother Ramli was a victim of the killings.
The man, an optician, watches footage shot by Oppenheimer during the making of ‘The Act of Killing’, some of which features men describing in detail how they executed his brother. Under the pretense of conducting eye exams, Ramli’s brother confronts several of the killers and their accomplices in an attempt to understand their actions and perhaps even to forgive them for the pain he has carried all his life.
Stories of genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass political murder are by their very nature shocking and horrifying. What is most disturbing here, however, is the pernicious lack of remorse on the part of the killers – indeed, they seem to consider themselves not only in the right, but heroes of the people. The propaganda that vilified the “communists” more than half a century ago still holds. The gap between the perpetrators of the horror and those who wish to come to terms with it is a gaping wound that cannot be healed.
It is, finally, incomprehensible.