Saturday, 6 February 2016

The Look Of Silence

The horror is not visual but it is relentless, and you watch this till your eyeballs start to bleed. The horror, it feels, is a matter of fact. Or, one can argue (an Indonesian mass murderer certainly would), a matter of history.

Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act Of Killing was pure brutal fascination. It was irresistible because it was grotesque. You had a million people who died during the genocide in Indonesia in 1965-1966, and here you saw those decrepit sons of bitches smiling smugly to the camera and gushing over the details of how they tortured and murdered their victims. A little less farcical, and you could throw up. As it was, you held on squeamishly and tried to make some sense of a completely different civilization.

The Look Of Silence is an afterthought. Oppenheimer's attempt to go a little further and try to make sense of what actually happened in Indonesia in mid-60s. At some point you feel he almost gets there, to some horrible revelation, but deep down you know he doesn't stand a chance. And nor does the quiet little Indonesian man facing the killers of his elder brother. Getting close would burn you down. Getting close would require you drinking the blood of those murderers.

Which is what those murderers apparently did: they drank the blood of the people they killed. The rational justification is grotesque, but you get to hear it again and again. They did it not to go insane. Decades later, there's no remorse and hardly a breath of apology. Decades later, they were obedient soldiers doing their job. Decades later, it was all bloody politics.

Another fruitless encounter, and you know the whole premise is an illusion. You can't get through. Sometimes there's no truth beneath human nature, and you are only left with a few horrific images that will stay with you for a very long time. Like the restless jowls, swirling insanely, of another sorry bastard who used to drink blood and cut off human genitalia. The past, someone like him says, should never be stirred up. Or else it will happen again. 

If there’s one thing that Joshua Oppenheimer gets out of this, it’s that history doesn't equal fact. History is emotional. It's the sweat and the tears. And the blood, too.