This film seems very timely as our world gets louder around us and as we go through the hectic, frantic and loud days that lead up to Christmas.
In Pursuit of Silence is a wonderful, meditative and thought provoking film about the value of silence and peaceful natural places in our lives. Interviews with sound technicians, theologians, rangers in USA national parks and philosophers explore the concept of silence, its value to our mental and physical health and well- being and the damage caused by noise pollution.
There is no such thing as absolute silence on earth. In the quietest natural landscapes there is always the sound of the wind or the songs of birds, while in the quietest room in the world, one can hear the noises of ones own body, that are usually drowned out by the noises around us.
The film moves through natural landscapes, monasteries and the peacefulness of the Japanese tea ceremony and follows the journey of a man who has made a vow of silence while walking coast to coast across the USA (ironically his route includes some far from silent major roads!). John Cage's silent piece of music 4'3" is discussed.
Silence however is becoming more and more of a rarity in today's world, so the film contains sections devoted to noise - whether the argumentative exchanges of a USA news discussion programme or the sounds of the city centre or a crowded bar. There is a public school in New York that is right by the side of a railway and the noise is so loud the children often can't hear what the teacher is saying. The noise levels in hospitals is rising every year in the US (and probably elsewhere) leading to higher rates of mistakes being made in surgical procedures. Continual exposure to very loud noise has direct impacts on our health and can lead to an increased risk of heart attack.
Luckily some organisations are recognising this, there are bars in New York where no music is played and patrons are requested to whisper, there are organisations across the world dedicated to helping people explore the therapeutic value of natural silence. We need more of these initiatives and we need them more than ever!
My only complaint about the film was that although in some of the peaceful sections the natural sounds were allowed to shine through, in other peaceful sections music was drowning out the natural sounds! Nice, peaceful music but even so! In a film devoted to the value of peacefulness, why would you use music of any sort to soundtrack a section where people sitting in natural settings are talking about the value of natural sound?
That complaint aside it's well worth watching.
In Pursuit of Silence is showing at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh today.