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'In the Pursuit of Silence' Review

Crashing waves, falling rain, gentle breezes

September 6, 2017, 12:00 am

Two years after its UK debut, audiences in the United States are invited to chase something elusive. Isn’t that what we want? To incessantly seek? Here, we can find.

In the Pursuit of Silence is a ponderous, beautiful work that reminds us silence isn’t possible to comprehend as the absence of sound, but the disruption of life’s cacophony. And it’s a disruption humankind needs to hold dear.

Director Patrick Shen’s documentary chops include being the celebrated director and producer of Flight from Death in 2003, about how the fear of mortality drives our social behavior. He’s also the brain behind The Philosopher Kings, the story of janitors in big-name universities, in 2009.

His newest movie combines voices of those who have, in some cases, devoted their lives to study of quietude, and of the effects that a lack of it has on our bodies and minds—most segments feature their faces for several moments of silence. As much as it decries the noise pollution of urban life, it reclaims its own time to hold moments of precious minimum noise, sometimes marked with a tagline and a decibel measurement. In places like Denali National Park in Alaska, it’s possible to hear fewer than 30 decibels in the ambient sound captured among the snowy crust. At an elementary school near the train tracks in New York City, the level jumps to 98. (The US Occupational Health and Safety Administration says decibel levels above about 85 require ear protection for workers).

Recently, I’ve taken to wearing earplugs for the big screen, and sorely regretted foregoing this new habit during this summer’s viewings of Dunkirk and Atomic Blonde. The Pursuit of Silence comes with no regrets, however, as the soundscape Shen offers is the polar opposite: crashing waves, falling rain and gentle breeze through the corn. Delicate sound; sound you hear if you’re quiet yourself. It’s even better if you hear it in real life.


9
+ Quiet hope might be the only thing you can really control
- Of course monks and birdwatchers can find peace in silence, but what about kids?

In the Pursuit of Silence
Directed by Shen Violet Crown,
R,
121 min


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