The Look of Silence

Notes - The Look of Silence by Roland Dahwen Wu


One of the least forgettable scenes—of many unforgettable scenes—in THE LOOK OF SILENCE is towards the end of the film, where Adi’s father is stumbling, lost and distraught. 

When I first saw the film, this was one of the more discomforting scenes, because I, as a viewer, was complicit with representing this man’s suffering, who seems unaware of the camera. What's more, it does not seem that Adi's father could agree or decline to be filmed in that moment. I asked myself: ‘Why did the filmmakers include this scene of torment and dementia? What right do they have to show this? What right do I have to see this?’ 

Then I listened to and read interviews with Joshua Oppenheimer, and learned that the scene is the only one in the film that Adi himself shot.

Here is an excerpt that addresses this scene:

Adi said, "Let me tell you why this is so important to me." He went and he got the camera that I had given him and he got one tape. He said, "I never sent you this tape, because it's very meaningful for me. But I think it'll explain, if you see it, you'll understand why this matters." Trembling, he took the tape, he immediately started to tremble, visibly. And put the tape in the camera, pressed play. As soon as the image came on the screen, he started to cry. He showed me the one scene in the film that Adi shot in The Look of Silence. It's a scene where his father is crawling through the house at the very end of the film. Lost, calling for help.
He said, "This was the first day my father couldn't remember me, my brothers and sisters or my mother. He was confused and lost all day. We were trying to comfort him. But we couldn't, because we were strangers to him and it was unbearable for me to just sit and not be able to help him. Eventually, not knowing what else to do, wanting to be close to him, I started to film." He said, "I couldn't comfort him. I couldn't touch him, because he'd get afraid, but because he can't see, I could be close to him.
"The moment I picked up the camera and I knew why I was filming," he said, "because this is the moment, from now on, it's too late for my father. It's too late for him to heal, because he's forgotten the son whose murder destroyed our family's life. But he hasn't forgotten the fear. He'll never forget the fear, because he will never be able to work through it anymore. He'll never be able to remember what happened, work through it and grieve and mourn and heal." So he's like a man, he said, "Dad's become like a man trapped, locked in a room, who can't even find the door, let alone the key. And I don't want my children to inherit this prison of fear from my father and from me.

After learning the details of how this scene was filmed, I had the temporary sense that my guilt and complicity was lessened: Adi is a family member who has, perhaps, more of a right to film his distraught father than the official film crew, and because this scene was not a part of the official production and rather the impetus for the production, somehow it is more genuine or less unethical. Because Adi shot this scene, I felt for a moment that I had been granted permission to view his father in this way.

Only later did I examine my responses, and a possible and partial truth emerged: the reason that this scene disturbed me was neither my intial response—a suffering father portrayed by a film crew—nor my second response—Adi filmed the scene and because of this, we are given permission to view it—.

Instead, I am convinced that what is truly beautiful and haunting and tragic about this scene is that a human being is stripped of the performances that we enact in our daily lives. This man is suffering in front of a camera of which he is unaware. THE ACT OF KILLING and THE LOOK OF SILENCE examine the stories and lies that we tell ourselves, to destroy or condemn others, to forgive or absolve ourselves. Yet this man, lost in a room, is no longer performing for anyone, and that terrible and fearful and unaware suffering is what I am unable to forget.

Notes - Joshua Oppenheimer by Roland Dahwen Wu

reading notes from miscellaneous interviews with Joshua Oppenheimer

«this should be not a film simply about impunity and coexistence, this should fundamentally be a film about memory and oblivion, because that’s the real casualty of living for decades in fear.»

«if you overcome the fear of looking, you come out less afraid.»

«the capacity for human evil depends on our ability to lie to ourselves.»

«it was painful to deny myself the escapism of saying 'These men are monsters and they just should be judged', it was painful to not give my self the comfort of saying 'My role is to judge them or build a case and condemn them', because after all the role of artists aught not to be that of a court. We aught to be trying to understand, not trying to condemn. We aught to be trying to empathize - not sympathize. And we should take it for granted that our audiences are smart enough to understand that mass murder is wrong. If we don't understand that, we should get out of this business.»