The Look of Silence: the Sounds of Knock


There are the sounds of a knock to The Look of Silence. The audience was sitting in a dim room, a void of anticipation as the black screen and the headlights had not gone out. It feels crowded, but the experience is like watching alone. The lights went out, silence engulfed them for about an hour and a half, felt much faster, longer, until it faded to black. The film shows Adi’s father starting to sing. However, the audience did not see him and only listened to his voice. The name Joshua Oppenheimer made his way to the screen as a director.

However, there is a mistake. The co-producer is referred to as Anonymous and the camera operator, assistant director, and other crew. No audience moved as the credits slowly rose out of sight, keeping silent while continuing to listen to Adi’s father singing. In the end, everyone, in the first place, came together, suddenly left the theater feeling lonely but empty inside.

The Companion of The Act of Killing

The Look of Silence is a companion to The Act of Killing, nominated for a 2012 Oscar. It offers a chilling look at the United States supporting the aging genocide in Indonesia. Many are still in power, are celebrated as heroes, and openly brag about the mass killings they committed. They reenacted for Oppenheimer as well as the audience in detail. They behead people, torture, and strangle. The first film tries to understand the circumstances of creating an environment for people to respect the person. The killers saw themselves. The question is: are they able to repent for their actions?

The Look of Silence turns to the knock of the survivors and the victims’ families into the sounds. The camera follows Adi, where a paramilitary group kills his brother, Ramli, two years before Adi was born. He finally comes face to face with his brother’s killer with Oppenheimer’s help. As well as remaining an invisible force behind the scenes, the documentary looks at how it feels like people who kill an audience’s family surround their lives. It is dangerous when seeking healing and truth in the country by defending the cruelty and legacy of lies.

Adi Rukun

Adi Rukun asked his mother about how he felt about living close to the murder of his mother. His mother was a living witness to the kidnapping and massacre of Ramli in the September 1965 incident. Ramli still had time to return home with his intestines open after being tortured. Fear then hid her eldest child in the house; the following day, the army picked up Ramli by car to be “treated.” It was the last time his mother saw his son.

Adi Rukun is the son of a husband and wife from East Java, living in Deli Serdang Regency, North Sumatra. Decades after the tragedy, his brother decided to go to the people involved in the murder of Gerwani or PKI sympathizers. He is one of many people whose families became victims in the 1965 incident. In a question mark about historical truth, he continues to explore facts and seek explanations for the brutality committed by the butchers.

The Indoctrination of Communism

Joshua Oppenheimer presents The Look of Silence with a story about the sounds of knock. Compared to its predecessor, The Act of Killing, it offers a more attractive visual and plot. The audience was stunned by a brief but tense dialogue between Adi and the perpetrators involved in the massacre of his brother. The expression of anger, sadness, disappointment, which is recorded on Adi’s face, is the reason not to take his eyes off the screen for a second.

In a specific sequence, the elementary school teacher explains the events of September 1965 in front of the class. To his students, he linked communism with atheism. In addition to labeling PKI people “cruel and inhumane” to give a dramatic effect, the teacher also told how the perpetrators had the heart to gouge out the eyes of their victims. An accurate picture of indoctrination through educational institutions that everyone has experienced for themselves.

Ramli’s Death through Innocent Perspective

In another specific sequence, Adi said, “you killed innocent people” to the perpetrator. The perpetrator replied, “I don’t want to talk about politics.” Adi again said, “you tortured and massacred my family.” The perpetrator again loudly replied, “You ask too many questions.” When the audience hopes to give forgiveness to people who do not ask for it, despite being blind to the evil and disgusting deeds they have contributed either directly or indirectly, the arrogance of the perpetrators makes the audience’s blood boil in the face of the crime of corruption and offers silence.

Adi grew up in the village watching it. Although Adi did not witness firsthand the suffocating effects of the violence, he learned of Ramli’s death from his mother. From Oppenheimer’s camera interviews with the actors, the audience processes and knows facts with him. As Adi sat quietly in an empty room in front of an old TV, he watched an excerpt from a 1967 NBC News report. An Indonesian man told an American journalist how beautiful his country was after the butchers purged the communists.

The Snake River

Adi also witnessed two older men reenacting happily how they castrated people’s genitals, dragged the victims through the fields, and dumped them into the river. However, the most gripping audience focus is when Adi sits with his real-life killer. Often when testing their eyesight, he asks to be held accountable for their crimes. One claimed to be a head-to-head carrier to scare the Chinese owner. Others drank the victim’s blood because it was the only way to avoid getting mad. Inong, leader of the death squad, said the blood was salty and sweet. Adi asked back, “excuse me?” and Inong repeated.

A middle-aged man with a black cap on his head while wearing a jacket walked towards the scene of the Ramli massacre. Accompanied by Adi, the man who managed to escape during the execution process at the Snake River showed the location where Ramli was tortured. “Ramli screamed for help, everyone will be killed,” said the middle-aged man to Adi. He escaped and fled to the oil palm plantation. The middle-aged man became a living witness who told how cruel the murderers treated him and Ramli. He had closed the incident sincerely and did not want to look for any more trouble, even to talk about it with Adi.

The Invisibility of The Look of Silence

In The Look of Silence, it is critical but invisible to the sounds of knock. Oppenheimer encourages Adi to collect the stories of the killers. However, he did not just pave the way for Adi to meet them safely. Instead, he tried to win the hearts of paramilitary groups and leaders. He began to understand their revisionism as a symptom of collective ignorance by talking to dozens of actors. For Adi, they take bitter and rotten memories to coat them with sweet language from the history of a winner. The film looks at the lies by perpetrators and victims to themselves over decades of survival.

Disbelief, disgust, and horror on the one hand and empathy and admiration for Adi, on the other hand, describe The Look of Silence. It is easy for the audience to feel dead, not desensitized. However, it is about Adi. He never once raised his voice with his guest. His courage made his family refuse when he told him he had met the Komando Aksi death squad leaders. No other words, his wife warned. His mother advised him to bring a bat or knife. “Tell them that you are fasting,” his mother said not to drink anything they offered in the cup.

The Slice of Life of Adi and His Family

Oppenheimer also adds a personal touch by showing the daily life of Adi’s father and mother, who are in their old age. At the beginning of the film, it is shown how Adi’s mother bathes Adi’s father. He desperately needs help moving, senile, and old. When asked about his age, the father, whose hearing is already poor, answered 16 years. The absence of Adi’s father and his mother’s stubbornness in life makes The Look of Silence almost like big-screen fiction. However, the point leads the film to be loaded with cargo that is quickly “devoured.”

The film finds a broad relevance across world lines, not just the role of one nation in genocide. When a murderer says the American government should reward a trip to the United States for his job, for a perpetrator, America teaches them to hate communists. If America hates it, then the world must hate it too. In delivering horror closely, Oppenheimer equates the Indonesian genocide with America’s history of mass killings of Native Americans. He encourages audiences to think about America’s involvement in past and present mistakes.

The Personal Touch

Compared to The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence is lighter, not making its message subtle. Like the predecessor, the film straightforwardly hits the wall built by the New Order government regarding the historical facts of the 1965 events. Oppenheimer presents sources telling stories about how they involved and massacred people called “communist supporters.” It also underlines another point: no more minor slapping. Perpetrators and victims of mass massacres are both commoners.

The Look of Silence is a historical story with a secret knock, making the audience go home with a giddy feeling and reflecting on the sounds of the survivors of the September 1965 incident, about the justification for a massacre, and about the historical facts that the regime in power has distorted. It is a reminder that there are still historical holes that are covered.

Human Nature

A void will not be filled if the public remains silent, pretends not to know, or does not want to know. Despite the Indonesian government recognizing the genocide, The Look of Silence became a film with more than 3,500 views to more than 300,000 people in Indonesia. Many of the audience will also be relatives of the killers. However, the film offers a hopeful print on how generations living in the shadows of past crimes can move forward and come together.

It is an inherently political film. However, it is not a film with long text but crawls to beg forgiveness from the audience. Like its predecessor, the film shows the beauty and power of cinema. Oppenheimer and Adi find leniency to expose aspects of human nature about honesty and grace.


About the author

Salman Al Farisi is the owner of Calxylian and is an elitist who has enjoyed and studied various mediums. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in 2020 from the Haluoleo University, Indonesia, where he studied English Literature, Film Criticism, Cultural Studies, Literary Theory, and Literary Criticism. He lives in Kendari in his mom's basement, now unemployed and ghostwriter, life with his cats, and is looking for the future.

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