Patrick Shen’s documentary In Pursuit of Silence is a captivating investigation into what silence really is, and why humans might seek it out, or even require it.
Shen begins his documentary with an ode to John Cage’s 4’33”, using a montage of images with only ambient sounds captured, which serves a compelling introduction, not least of which because John Cage is clearly an important figure in the film, in terms of both his presence in it and his ideas. We then see a series of talking heads, interspersed with Shen’s arresting imagery, from a wide range of professions and cultures, talking about what silence can mean and why it is important.
The most involving part of the documentary juxtaposes the potential benefits of silence and silent contemplation alongside the helter-skelter of modern day life, the cumulative noise of which, Shen and his contributors argue, is having a number of negative effects on us. This is the heart of the film, and Shen makes a compelling argument that noise has become a pervasive influence in our lives.
The film is technically impressive, not just in its vivid imagery, but in its use of sound and sound mixing, as well as talking heads, to put forward its argument. The way the film is edited, we’re invited to experience the kind of calm that Shen is telling us is so important, and it’s difficult not to see sense in the film’s ideas. Compelling interviews, combined with visual artistry and a very considered soundscape, give the film a persuasive through line that actually reminding me of the way Patricio Guzman’s film Nostalgia for the Light presented its ideas.
The film spends a little too much of its runti me indulging in imagery and soundscapes – time it could’ve spent delving deeper into the ideas it puts forward – but this remains a thought-provoking and well made documentary.