The Silent Teacher re-frames death as something that can be useful to the living
A Taiwanese documentary director talks to us about life, dying and the ethics of donating your body to science
Taiwanese documentary The Silent Teacher takes a hard look at the meaning of life and its looming – and taboo in discussions – shadow, death.
The story is told through widower Lin Hui-tsung. He and his wife, Hsu Yu-e, agreed their bodies would be donated to science after their deaths. When Hse died, her corpse went to Fu Jen Catholic University for anatomy lessons. The medical students refer to people like Hsu as “silent teachers”.
“I came up with the idea for The Silent Teacher in 2013,” director Maso Chen Zhi-han told Young Post. “I was moved by how the students would visit the silent teacher’s family before the lessons, and I wondered how they would cope after meeting the people closest to the silent teachers.”
After discovering that Fu Jen was one of the few schools in Taiwan to offer anatomy lessons, Chen reached out to them. He began work on the documentary in January 2014.
“For the teachers, the anatomy classes are not just lessons, but a way for students to learn about life.”
Chen’s research revealed that universities in Asian countries seem more concerned with paying respect to donors’ families than those in western countries.
“It might be related to the fact that Asians tend to believe in reincarnation and the next life, whilst people in western societies believe that there’s just one life, and that after life, your spirit goes to heaven,” he explained. “In other words, the body is of less importance [to Westerners].”
Chen spent a long time dealing with the ethical implications of filming Hsu’s family members.
“Their participation would mean they would constantly be reminded of their beloved’s death.”
Fortunately, Lin was willing to share his experiences.
“I told him that his story is worth telling, and that it can inspire people to think about life, death, and use of bodies after death, “ Chen said.
The Silent Teacher took an especially long time to film, as Chen obtained a lot of footage of Lin “acting naturally”.
“I did not ask him many questions or give him a lot of instructions, I just followed him around and filmed whatever he did. This made him trust me and feel more comfortable in front of the camera.
“On the other side, I was very careful about selecting footage from the anatomy process. I had to identify moments acceptable to Lin’s family, as well as the audience,” Chen said.
In total, Chen spent more than a year filming and more than a year editing The Silent Teacher.
His message to Young Post readers is to “take responsibility for your lives”.
“You are free to make any decisions, but remember that you will have to bear the consequence of your actions. Start doing what you think is right, now.”
Edited by Ben Young