Joshua Oppenheimer is a badass. Who else would round up war criminals and get them to reenact their crimes as he did in 2012’s The Act of Killing? In The Look of Silence, the Oscar-nominated director revisits the scene of the same crime: the 1965–66 genocide of so-called communists in Indonesia (for their protection, his codirector is billed as Anonymous).
His subject, Adi Rukun, a 44-year-old optometrist with an admirably chill demeanor, sets out to find what happened to Ramli, the older brother he never met. He talks to his outspoken mother and his circumspect neighbors and watches news reports and interviews in which the murderers claim that the victims asked to be killed. At the village school, a teacher tells his students—including Adi’s impressionable son—similar lies (“The communists were cruel, so the government had to repress them”).
One of his patients, 78-year-old death squad leader Inong, explains that he drank human blood to avoid going crazy, and yet he’s clearly nuts. Adi calmly contradicts everything Inong and his conspirators say about the people they slaughtered and dumped in the Snake River. He’s just one man, and he can’t change the fact that 500,000-plus died while their killers moved up in society, but his insistence on acknowledgment and contrition proves him just as much of a badass as his filmmaker.