'In Pursuit of Silence': Film Review
Patrick Shen's documentary explores the beneficial effects of silence on our lives.
You’ll feel compelled to turn up the volume during Patrick Shen’s documentary about the beneficial effects of silence. For one thing, your hearing has probably already been affected by the pernicious noise levels afflicting our everyday lives. For another, every commentator in the film speaks in the sort of quiet, measured tones apparently meant to signify inner calm but will mostly leave you asking, “What did he say?”
The sort of documentary for which the term “meditative” is usually applied, In Pursuit of Silence is a freewheeling examination of its subject that will make you crave a nice, long walk in the woods. As well you should, since one of the film’s revelations is that exposure to forest environments provides a natural boost to immune systems. Which you’ll need after getting that tick bite.
The film is a bit all over the map, both literally and figuratively. It travels around the globe, from such cities as Mumbai, India, described as the loudest in the world, to Kyoto, where we’re shown a traditional tea ceremony that will make you feel like your blood pressure is getting lower just by watching. The subject matter, too, can charitably be described as diffuse. Much screen time is devoted to someone named Greg Hindy, who took a vow of silence and devoted himself to spending a year walking across America. But as he exhibits handwritten notes explaining himself, you’ll find yourself caring less and less.
Another segment is devoted to famed avant-garde composer John Cage, seen in interview footage and a vintage clip from the television series I’ve Got a Secret. One of Cage’s more famous compositions, “4' 33",” consists entirely of silence, and the documentary includes scenes of various orchestras “performing” it in front of audience members who look suitably impressed by the seriousness of it all.
Along with commentary by a gallery of academic talking heads who inform us about such things as the urbanization and increased noise levels that followed the Industrial Revolution, there are alternating scenes of quiet, bucolic environments contrasted with noisy, bustling ones. They’re all accompanied by graphics providing the sites’ exact sound levels, including a New York City restaurant clocking in at a disquieting 90 decibels.
In Pursuit of Silence doesn’t really tell you much that you didn’t already instinctively know — silence is good, loud noise is bad — but it does provide a sporadically interesting overview that could well have you rethinking your next vacation plans. Compared to that Times Square hotel room, a cabin in the woods starts to look pretty good. And the film certainly maintains the courage of its convictions, with its end credits accompanied by…you guessed it.
Production: Transcendental Media
Distributor: The Cinema Guild
Director: Patrick Shen
Producers: Andrew Brumme, Patrick Shen, Brandon Vedder
Directors of photography: Patrick Shen, Brandon Vedder
Music: Alex Lu
Editor: Patrick Shen