In Pursuit of Silence


Review of a truly remarkable film, In Pursuit of Silence is over on Flickering Myth and below…

How noisy is the world these days? And how often do we really get the chance to experience silence – or at the very least, a quiet absence of loud? Not very often this impressive and exquisitely created film would suggest.

Patrick Shen’s superbly produced documentary takes the audience on an exploration of the ins and outs of modern sound levels, with a suggestion that the current trends of metropolitan soundscapes are damaging in a variety of different ways. Bringing out a number of personal stories, alongside professional scientific research, the film is a powerful encapsulation of a new-world dilemma.

Shot in a number of different locations around the globe – from the streets of the loudest city in the world, Mumbai during the festival season, to a lonely tree in Iowa, the film is much more than a traditional science and nature documentary. It takes in a whole range of subjects, with the visual language playing an integral part. In fact, the dialogue is kept to a minimum and there is no traditional narration, instead offering the insight of experts and intellectuals who have looked into sound-pollution and its impact.  Each part of the film features beautifully realized representations of the natural world and our place in it, and this alongside philosophical and psychological analysis establishes exactly why this is such an important study.

John Cage’s work 4’33 could be said to be the film’s theme song, and the creator of that silent masterpiece provides thought provoking detailing of what led him to come up with the piece’s complete silence (or near silence, depending on where it is being performed). The composition is mentioned throughout the film, and how its reputation has shifted through the ages since its creation could be said to highlight our changing attitudes towards silence. Nowadays it seems to be a rare resource, and its stock could be said to to be on the rise…

The scale of the value of silence and just how striking it can be is brought out in scene after scene. A particularly striking one is recorded during a Remembrance Day two minutes silence in the Lloyds of London Building. The trading room floor falls fantastically quiet and then just as suddenly reverts to the high-octane clamour of the financial world.

Another memorable part of the film is provided by Greg Hindy, a man searching for calm and well being through a self-imposed vow of silence. He embarked on a walking quest from New Hampshire to Los Angeles and shares his thoughts with the filmmakers throughout the film. The effective display of simply holding up his notebook detailing his thoughts to the screen allows us into a private world, full of sights and intensity without the need for dialogue. He sums up the process beautifully in the following lines: “Sometimes to really see things the way that they truly are, you have to take a step back, and then another step, and then a few more.”

A meditative study, both intriguing and frightening – as quiet contemplation becomes more of a rarity –  In Pursuit of Silence raises awareness in hauntingly beautiful fashion. Strongly recommended.

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