In Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing,” a pair of gangsters who were responsible for murdering an untold number of suspected communists in the years following the 1965 overthrow of the Indonesian government get the chance to recount their experiences. At first showing no visible remorse, the men boast of their achievements, and Oppenheimer capitalizes on their enthusiasm with a twisted gimmick: The men are given numerous opportunities to reenact the murders for Oppenheimer’s camera, sometimes emphasizing their brutality and occasionally delivering surreal, flamboyant takes that offer a grotesque spin on classic Hollywood musicals. Playing make believe with murderers, Oppenheimer risks the possibility of empowering them. However, by humanizing psychopathic behavior, “The Act of Killing” is unparalleled in its unsettling perspective on the dementia’s associated with dictatorial extremes. Oppenheimer’s main focus is a lean man named Anwar Congo, one of several former members of the Indonesian paramilitary organization Pancasila Youth. Drawing from American movie clichés for his image as a menacing bad guy, Congo and one of his colleagues indulge Oppenheimer with stories of their murderous achievements while also complaining about the perception they face from the rest of the world.
It’s unique story telling has successfully made important people, including current parliament members, admitting brutality, killing and on-going premanism (thuggery) that’s clearly supported by the government, also in their own words, to the camera. Director Joshua Oppenheimer approached the ex-algojo, Anwar Congo and his buddies, to play in a silly movie, even in woman’s dress, without knowing that the real movie is actually the everyday conversation where he was proudly telling n showing what he has done in 65. The government assigned military and preman to support the coup-de-tat, raping and killing many innocents in the name of anti-PKI. The movie’s honest, satire and unprovocative documentation has ironically made us laugh and cry at the same time. Reality does bite: people do what they think is right, and make it right for them, no matter how wrong it is. Why? Because history is written by the winners. All Indonesian production team remain anonymous and the movie is not publicly distributed in Indonesia.
I have never been as completely chilled by a film in my life, and I have seen plenty of brutal documentaries. The atrocities committed by the Indonesian death squads, and so vividly re-enacted, are not easy to watch and I expect that many people would rather just turn away and ignore them, but you owe it to yourselves to sit through them. I have just finished reading Steven Pinker’s excellent book The Better Angels of Our Nature in which he argues that humanity is far less violent now than we have ever been. That may be so, but if you are looking for a compelling counter-argument you can start with this film. I can assure that that you will never forget it. If you do choose to witness it however, you will gain something valuable from the experience. This film was made to give voice to victims and it does this in spades. It was made to right wrongs, and as a testament. For this reason, it is worth your time to watch it and to learn from it.I don’t want to talk too much about any specific content, as it really speaks for itself.
Welcome to sinister conundrums and lack of accountability 101; where post modernity has brought us. Welcome to an amazing Doco that shows us this stark reality, transplanted to Indonesia. Imagine these days, hopefully less people (than at any other point in history) would accept an official criticism of Indonesia from the International Community. Suffice it to say that in terms of content this is NOT entertainment and is NOT suitable for everybody as upsetting scenes are thematically unavoidable. The filmmaker only occasionally speaks up from behind the camera to remind his subject that, no matter how unsettled their crimes have left them, the experience was infinitely worse for their victims. At 115 minutes, “The Act of Killing” is a frequently devastating experience that smothers viewers with a one-sided point of view given the power to run wild. A large-scale reenactment of mass murder, replete with crying children and homes ablaze, seems real enough to make it evident that the gangsters would feel comfortable committing the same murders all over again.