It’s the impeccably crystalline sound design of In Pursuit of Silence, above all else, that leaves you so very acutely aware, upon leaving the cinema, if only for some residual minutes rather than resounding hours, of all the motion, commotion and sound abounding around you.
Director, Patrick Shen, posits his film as meditative and it is profoundly effective and affecting in that regard. Even if predominantly noticeable only once it has finished then that, perhaps, is largely the point. Maybe, just maybe, amidst everyone leaping for the exits as soon as the credits begin to roll and clawing their pockets for their mobile phones, that in fairness they have been utterly neglecting for the past epoch of all of 90 minutes, you might just sit in silence and take in the experience you’ve just had, rather than instantly disposing of it and rushing headlong into the next.
Forced or, better still, drawn to distraction through a fear that if we’re not immediately experiencing something directly in front of our eyes then we’re experiencing nothing, when actually the inverse is more accurate, by cramming our senses with constant stimulus we prevent ourselves from being able to truly experience any one of the moments within which we truly must exist. And this is the point Shen is making. It may well be that the link between silence and well-being is not merely a spiritual consideration but also a physical one. The correlation between excessive noise in a person’s environment and heart disease, hypertension etc appears, from what Shen presents here, to be one worthy of the study it is currently undergoing but also our attention.
However, bringing the film itself, and not just it’s message, back into focus, it’s not quite the piece of high art to which it might aspire, a la the work of Godfrey Reggio or 2012’s intensely visceral silent masterpiece Leviathan, but it is superbly well tuned in to what it is trying to achieve. And it achieves it well.
Meditation can make you feel relaxed and, at times, even lull you to sleep, as can Shen’s film. Blending a sensory compliment of voice-over, talking head interviews and roaming ambient soundscape draped over sweeping imagery, the very notion that silence, in its very essence, does not actually exist but is just yet another human made construct born out of a misapprehension of our environment, this documentary poses some probing questions and plants some seeds of doubt as to whether they way we live is the way we are supposed to live.
Uniquely realised, In Pursuit of Silence doesn’t quite defy or transcend its own boundaries but it certainly has a good stab at challenging them.