SXSW REVIEW: In Pursuit of Silence

There was something sort of quietly unforgettable about experiencing In Pursuit of Silence.

The reference to it being an experience rather than merely “seeing” a documentary film screening is largely in part to the multiple different artistic components Director Patrick Shen brought to the theater that day. Before the film even screened, film composer Alex Lu conducted and performed a piece from the film, as well as a 4’33”, John Cage’s composition consisting of four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence.

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At this point, as an audience member, you are completely thrown off guard or entranced in the opportunity of meditation that has been given to you. The initial opening moments of the film showcase beautiful cinematography of peaceful places, with very delicate ambience acting as it’s only companion. When the first words of an interviewee are spoken, their sounds are amplified to a harshness that makes you want to return to only those quiet landscape moments. They are abrasive, but important, and the film then juggles these two flavors throughout, exploring what silence really means to us as human beings in a world where we constantly crave auditorial and visual stimulation.

It’s never straight-foreword, but through the film, Shen surmises that silence isn’t truly defined as a level of decibels, but as a way of thinking and being. It’s a reminder of how much sound has invaded our lives. How we crave the need to “fill the void” with words and industrialized sounds. It feels as if the documentary is asking us “What is silence, and where did it go?”

Each of the various subjects the film explores these questions with eclectic and wise worldview, branching to all corners of the globe. The respect to Eastern and Western cultures gives the film a scale beyond our own lives to connect us all.

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Sound design reigns champion in this film, and for every moment of meditation and profound moment of us inching closer to feeling the serenity of what silence might be, we are bombarded by our unfortunate reality: the headache of a subway train, the wall of sound that is a street parade in India. In moments? It’s loud and haunting. In others? We realize that even quiet moments are still secretly loud, and that sound never escapes us. The companionship of the imagery and movement of the camera for the most part takes the role of being still in both the commotion and the tranquil, never trying to impress us. At times, the pace of the film may seem to drag or lose momentum, but much like any mediation, it feels less like badgering and more warranted.

At the end of your meditation, the real exploration of the film is whether or not you are going to be cognizant of sound in your life. Are you going to pursue silence in it’s truest form?

Much respect to Director Patrick Shen and his team for making a quietly loud film to help wake up the modern world.

Grade: A-

Written by: Spencer Mirabal

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