The more documentaries I watch, the more I’m left reverting back to the same old critiques: too many talking heads, too much reliance on archived footage, and too little compelling film-making. Joshua Oppenheimer certainly falls prey to the first two problems, but I think there’s an interesting filmmaker there, I just don’t think he’s hit his stride yet.
Much like his previous film, The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence examines horrific acts of violence done in Indonesia. While The Act of Killing did it through the eyes of the killer, this one does it through the eyes of the son of one of the victims. I like this one a bit more because it doesn’t get into some of the weirdness that happened when Oppenheimer handed off the reigns of filmmaking to his subject. This is a much more focused piece of filmmaking.
And I admire what he’s trying to say here. There’s a good juxtaposition between those who simply want to understand and forgive the killers and those who want these killers to be punished with a cruelty as harsh as they inflicted. Judgment and grace are at war in the human heart.
The problem is that the act of watching is so boring to me. It’s like watching a body of stagnant water, all the muck and grime on the surface is easy to see and pick at, but the film never feels like it takes the plunge. It’s all to be taken at surface value. After about 15 minutes, I felt the film had said everything it had to say. There was no room for development or growth. I wished I loved this film, it’s an admirable message, I just couldn’t help finding it a tedious and mundane piece of filmmaking.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing