MOVIE REVIEW | The Act of Killing (2013)

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“In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown by the military.  Anybody opposed to the military dictatorship could be accused of being a communist: Union members, landless farmers, intellectuals and the ethnic Chinese.  In less that a year, and with the direct aid of western governments, over one million ‘communists’ were murdered.  The army used paramilitaries and gangsters to carry out the killings.  These men have been in power – and have persecuted their opponents – ever since.  When we met the killers, they proudly told us stories about what they did.  To understand why, we asked them to create scenes about the killings in whatever ways they wished.  This film follows that process, and documents its consequences.”

That’s the introduction to The Act of Killing.  It’s pretty dark stuff and even this lack of sugar coating in the opening minutes won’t prepare you for what you’re about to watch with this documentary.

The central figure is ex-killer, current folk hero, Anwar Congo.  He killed upwards of 1,000 people during the 60s “extermination” and the smug prick couldn’t be more proud of himself.  He openly talks about these atrocious acts in front relatives of victims and even in front of his own young grand children.

Always with Congo, is his sidekick and sycophantic lapdog, Herman Koto.  A current paramilitary and stand over man, Koto looks more like a move character than a real person.  He has the perfect look of really dumb and really ruthless.   At one stage he runs for parliament.  Campaigning in a Transformers t-shirt, Herman openly talks about the bribery and corruptions he’s looking forward to if elected.  Sadly, he doesn’t get enough votes.

The core group is rounded out by Adi Zulkadry, a former co-killer with Congo.  Zulkadty is Congo’s opposite in almost every way.  He openly regrets what they did, he recognizes the brain washing propaganda used to justify the those terrible things, he is almost disturbed by the reenactments they participate in.  But at the same time, he doesn’t really show guilt, just cold acceptance.

It’s jarring to hear people in 2013 still talk about communists as the red menace like it’s the height of the Cold War in the 50s or 60s.  It’s also a testament to how completely and thoroughly the propaganda worked in brain washing people like Anwar Congo.

Congo admits to have recurring nightmares about what he’s done, but never seems to acknowledge any guilt.  I don’t think it’s an act either.  I think he really is that self unaware and repressed.  His obliviousness to the magnitude of what he’s done is perfectly summed up when he casually remarks, “For massacres, I usually wore jeans.  For massacres, pants should be thick”.

The Act of Killing is rough going.  Brutal and relentless for over two and half hours, you’re probably not going to be in a great mood when you get to the end.  But with a story like this, not feeling like shit would be a sign of failure on the documentary’s part.

The Act of Killing
Directed By – Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn

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