Books, Documentaries, Society

The Banality of Evil: Learning from the Horrors of the Past

Last week I watched The Look of Silence, a documentary film by Joshua Oppenheimer and a companion piece to his 2012 work The Act of Killing. Both films explore how the Indonesian military killed a million people – suspected communists and subversives – over the course of 1965-66 after it overthrew the government. The films bring this hidden history to life through the voices of both victim and perpetrator.

In this recent work, a family of survivors discovers how their son Ramli was murdered, as well as the identities of the killers, nearly half a century after the event unfolded. The documentary focuses on the youngest son, an optometrist named Adi, who decides to break the suffocating spell of submission and terror by doing something unimaginable in a society where the murderers remain in power: he confronts the men who killed his brother and, while testing their eyesight, asks them to accept responsibility for their actions. This film initiates and bears witness to the collapse of fifty years of silence.

First he meets Inong who, wearing the heavy optical frames Adi has placed over his eyes, speaks freely about his crimes, how he once cut off the breast of a communist woman who had been given up for execution by her own brother and how, like many of the killers, he drank the blood of his victims in the belief that it would stop him going mad amid the relentless slaughter. Continue reading

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