Post D: Was it really Acting in ‘The Act of Killing’?

The “documentary”, The Act of Killing, addresses the genocide of Communist Party members in Indonesia between 1965-1966, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. It documents the Indonesian death squads that carried out mass murders of alleged communists for the government. What creates this documentary to stand out from the others, is how Oppenheimer chronicles these killings. There was an inherent madness in his approach. He tracked down the men who actually committed the murders, to reenact these moments and participate in the film. As quoted by executive producer Werner Herzog, “they happily agreed to do so, with the emphasis on happily”. The killers re-enacted their crimes through juxtaposing the torturous cruelty with otherworldly antics, dancing and vivid colours. Unlike other documentary films, Oppenheimer blurs the line between a good and evil narrative, where the borderline between documentary and fiction is blurred. The amount of stylization and surrealism leaves the audience in a land between fantasy and reality. The audience is furthermore shown the killers everyday activities, allowing them to question and seek their own answers. In an interview on vice, Oppenheimer states that, “most movies try to kill thinking. They take thought and try to stick it in its back. This is a movie that encourages people to think”

Re-creating the brutal killing scenes within the film
Re-creating the brutal killing scenes within the film

Due to the actors re-enacting scenes that they inherently performed during the genocide, it makes you question whether the performance is real or not. Its ambiguity makes the film so powerful and unique. The documentary is trying to communicate something about the real world, through entering and exploring the idea of something other than a journalistic point of view.

Actors reenacting a scene in film, 'The Act of Killing'
Actors reenacting a scene in film, ‘The Act of Killing’

The film was screen as a university in Yogyakarta, to a mixed group of students, teachers and friends of the university. The film resulted in a vast range of opinions on the subject matter. Although many questioned the film and the message it is portraying, the students, parents and teachers at the university had a universal acknowledgement that films central message is impossible to ignore and would be “ground-breaking in helping Indonesia break its silence about its history.”

References:

  1. Bjerregaard, M. 2014, ‘What Indonesians really think about the Act of Killing’ The Guardian, News and Media Limited, viewed 25th April, 2015 <http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/mar/05/act-of-killing-screening-in-indonesia>
  2. Rohter, L, 2013, ‘A Movie’s Killers Are All Too Real: The Act of Killing and Indonesian Death Squads’, New York Times, viewed 25th April 2015 <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/movies/the-act-of-killing-and-indonesian-death-squads.html?_r=0>
  3. Salam, R, 2014, The VICE Podcast – Joshua Oppenheimer on ‘The Act of Killing’ VICE, Media LLC, viewed 25th April, 2015  <http://www.vice.com/read/the-vice-podcast-joshua-oppenheimer-on-the-act-of-killing>
  4. The Act Of Killing, 2012, DVD, Joshua Oppenheimer
  5. Photo 1 Reference: http://i1.wp.com/24fpsverite.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/The-Act-of-Killing-3.jpg viewed 26th April, 2015
  6. Photo 2 Reference: http://www.fansshare.com/gallery/photos/13332779/preparing-for-reenactment-scene-from-drafthouse-films-documentary-the-act-of-killing-seducing-mr-perfect/?displaying viewed 26th April, 2015
  7. Photo 3 Reference: http://anakfilm.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/565x339xThe-Act-Of-Killing-1_TAOK_FISH_framegrab.jpg.pagespeed.ic.A6vcjVHDp1.jpg viewed 26th April, 2015

Post D: The Act Of Killing – A Gangsters Celebration of Genocide

‘The Act Of Killing” is an incredible documentary because it does not just expose the mass killing of over a million ‘communists’ in Indonesia following the 1665 coup, but allows this truth to be revealed by the very people who committed these crimes. The director of the film, Joshua Openheimer, allowed Anwar Congo, The head of a gang called the ‘Frog Squad’ and his associates who conducted many of these mass executions to direct a film recounting their own version of the events. “War crimes are defined by the winners. I am a winner so I can make my own definitions” (Congo, 2013).

There is a great emphasis on the word ‘gangster’ throughout the film as it is derived from idea of ‘free men’. Anwar and his friends wear this title proudly as if they are heroes in their favourite Hollywood films from which they adapted some of their killing techniques. These gangsters were excited to make the film as they saw it as a chance to create a heroic retelling of their lives that they could show to their children.

Early on in the film, Anwar acts out how he used to kill people in one of the killing sites. He demonstrates this in a matter-of-fact way then proceeds to dance the cha-cha. He says “it was like we were killing happily” (Congo, 2013). This brutal honesty is astounding as it appears that Anwar has no remorse for these events. Openheimer explains that this is no more that a façade, “They’re desperately trying to run away from the reality of what they’ve done. You celebrate mass killing so you don’t have to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and see a murderer” (Openheimer, 2013). This is extremely confronting as a viewer as the level of corruption in Indonesia’s past becomes obvious. The screening of the film at a university in Yogyakarta “provoked anger and frustration among the audience. Many felt betrayed by the political elite” (Bjerregaard, 2014).

2013-review-The-Act-of-Killing

(Still Frame from ‘The Act of Killing’ film – Anwar demonstrating killing with wire)

Anwar’s mood quickly changes as the film proceeds as he begins to realise the impact he has had on the lives of so many families. He begins to confront the ghosts of his past that haunt him in his sleep. “If we succeed in making this film, it will disprove all the propaganda about the communists being cruel and show that we were the cruel ones. (…) It’s not a problem for us, it’s a problem for history” (Congo, 2013). The dissonance in Anwar’s attitude towards his actions allows one to feel remorse for him as a human being despite the atrocities he has committed in his past.

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(Still Frame from ‘The Act of Killing’ film – Anwar feeling remorse as he acts out the part of the communist)

References:

The Act Of Killing, 2012, Motion Picture, Piraya Film and Novaya Zelmya Ltd in association with Spring Films Ltd, Denmark

Henry Barnes, 2013, Joshua Openheimer: ‘You celebrate mass killing so you don’t have to look yourself in the mirror’, The Guardian, London, viewed 28 April 2015, <http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/jun/20/joshua-oppenheimer-act-of-killing&gt;

Mette Bjerre, 2014, What Indonesians really think about The Act of Killing, The Guardian, London, viewed 28 April 2015, <http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/mar/05/act-of-killing-screening-in-indonesia&gt;