One of my favorite poems of all time is Marianne Moore’s “Silence,” partly because of the two concise verses where she so deftly sums up my relationship to the world:
“The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint.”
I identify with Moore’s insight (profound emotion reigned in by fear or uncertainty), and also appreciate that the poem does not seem to pass judgement. I’d even say that restraint can be useful, especially when your emotions, though deep, are also deeply irrational. Far better to taciturnly think it over for a few days than to blurt out rash words you ultimately don’t even mean, or that’s my party line anyway.
But what if silence becomes a moral problem?
Code inconnu/Code Unknown is a film which closely examines and exposes the ugliness of everyday silence (which, I must warn, often makes for uncomfortable spectatorship). The film follows the lives of several characters who passively orbit around one another, with brief yet unpleasant collisions. The storytelling is episodic, starkly punctuated by blackness…and perfect silence.
Silence appears in many forms in the plot as well: the begging Romanian woman on the street who does not respond to insults, the bitterness of old lovers’ mutual lack of desire to communicate, the world of a deaf child, the solitude of a struggling taxi-driver, the ashamed depression of a grouchy old man, and an entire apartment building’s nonresponse to loud and violent abuse which, going on unchecked, results in a child’s death. The film associates silence with pain, as both its source and its result.
Though they treat the issue of silence in different ways, it seems that Code inconnu expands upon Moore’s claim. Yes, silence often betrays a painful emotive restraint. But it is equally important to consider the role that silence plays in engendering such pain, when basic sympathetic exchanges could relieve so much.