My Review of The Act of Killing (2012)

“In a country where killers are celebrated as heroes, the filmmakers challenge unrepentant death squad leaders to dramatize their role in genocide. The hallucinatory result is a cinematic fever dream, an unsettling journey deep into the imaginations of mass-murderers and the shockingly banal regime of corruption and impunity they inhabit.”

If you haven’t heard of this movie, it’s a documentary that focuses on the 1965-1966 massacres of alleged Communists in Indonesia. For more information on that, check out this link on the movie’s website. It’s the best documentary I have ever seen hands down. It made me angry. It made me sad. It made me scared. These are real people. It can be so hard to grasp that, but it’s true. Real people that died. Real people that tortured and murdered them. Real people who are celebrated as heroes because of the massacres they contributed to.

And it’s simply horrifying.

The creators of this documentary did something many wouldn’t expect. Instead of contacting the families of those who went through the horrible trauma or knew those that did, director Joshua Oppenheimer went to the ones who were responsible for the killings – men like Anwar Congo, who had his beginnings as a movie ticket scalper.

Not only does Oppenheimer interview them, but he also convinces the gangsters to agree to re-enact the horrific events in a movie.

“But their idea of being in a movie is not to provide testimony for a documentary:,” Oppenheimer said. “They want to star in the kind of films they most love from their days scalping tickets at the cinemas. We seize this opportunity to expose how a regime that was founded on crimes against humanity, yet has never been held accountable, would project itself into history.”

What follows is an incredibly terrifyingly honest look into Indonesian history and culture.

One of the first scenes stuck out most to me. During a search for actors and actresses on the streets, Paramilitary Leader Herman Koto begins to show a group of people how to act a scene. Koto demonstrates by acting as if he were scared and pleading with someone to not hurt his family.

“Mother, they burned our house down!” You can see the look in the mother’s eyes as Koto screams this and grabs one of the children in the crowd. As the group laughs around him, you can see the woman nervously join in, but stop pretty quickly.

These emotions – this fear, anger, guilt – are made more evident by their silence.

Oppenheimer allows the viewer to see both sides. He doesn’t butt in very much; the gangsters really speak the majority of the time.

Anwar Congo, a former executioner in the sixties, seems to be the main focus in the film.

Seeing the joy in his face as he makes his children watch a scene of him being tortured is chilling.

And Congo seems to be highly affected by his deeds. They give him nightmares, he says.

Oppenheimer truly paints a fascinating, haunting picture of life in Indonesia with this documentary. Not only was it eye-opening, but scary as well.

A quote taken from the film describes this feeling well: “The Geneva Conventions may be today’s morality, but tomorrow – we’ll have the Jakarta Conventions and dump the Geneva Conventions. ‘War crimes’ are defined by the winners. I’m a winner. So I can make my own definition.”

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I give this film 5 out of 5 hearts.

The Good: Eye-opening, honest, interesting point of view, fabulous progression

The Bad: Only has English subtitles (may have to watch twice to get the full effect)

Gore Rating: Low. Very mild since it is all done with makeup and fake re-enactments of violence.

DISCLAIMER: Very shocking, not a movie for children.

IMDB Rating: 8.2 out of 10

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 95%

Here’s another review by Kim Voynar of Movie City News: click here for the review.

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