In Pursuit of Silence
Directed by Patrick Shen
The idea of silence seems easily defined, but Patrick Shen’s documentary unveils the intricacies of the subject to mesmerizing and enlightening effect and sheds much light on the lack of awareness most of us have when it comes to the effects of a lack of peace and quiet.
Through an intercutting of various talking heads, rumbling metropolises and sublimely soundless vistas, we are exposed not just to the sights and (lack of) sounds of silence, but also various scientific explanations, theological ponderings and even the etymological origins of the word itself.
Modern culture’s overpowering intrusion on natural silence, and the effects it can have on human happiness, health, and development serve as the primary focal points of the film. The introduction of each location and event is accompanied with its common decibel level, revealing a troubling truth of how regularly we are bombarded with intrusive and often subconsciously obstructive noise. No example is more eye-opening than that of a New York school located mere yards from a heavily-used train track. The architecture of most buildings themselves are revealed to be detrimental to allowance of silence—designed, rather, for visual impact.
While much is made of the invasion of modern technology on the tranquility of our day to day, the film doesn’t take a stance that the existence of every bit of human-made noise is an absolute evil, but more so that our lack of effort to remove ourselves from it is equally problematic. A case is certainly made, as well, that we would be wise to focus efforts on limiting the noise pollution of our current technologies—from airplanes to automobiles to hospitals.
All of the discussion and contemplating aside, the most effective elements of the film may well be the juxtapositions of modernity’s most obnoxious examples of undesirable noise (from political pundits arguing at high volume to the screeching halt of a subway train) against segments of isolated nature’s pure solitude.
The film concludes with the presentation of several ways that an enlightened few are attempting to take us back towards an existence of less audio intrusion. Nearly silent running cars from BMW, quieter flying jets from Virgin Atlantic, and a Japanese doctor whose therapy includes scheduling patient time in the deep woods as a pathway to faster healing.
While the film meanders a bit in its construction, its statement is effectively made. Ultimately, In Pursuit of Silence reminds us that our natural state is one of quiet and that we would all do good, individually and collectively, to return to it often. To, essentially, remove ourselves from our distractions and to stop and listen to the roses.
Artistic Value – 7 / 10
Social Value – 9 / 10
Entertainment Value – 5 / 10