Tuesday, December 3, 2019

#28- Haunting Reenactments

The Act of Killing (2013)

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There are so many surreal moments in The Act Of Killing. From just about the first minute that it starts my mouth was agape and over the course of the next two hours it stayed that way. Every unbelievable moment just followed by another, more unbelievable, moment.

For those that don’t know The Act of Killing is a documentary about the Indonesian Genocide and the people that who participated and carried out the mass executions from 1965 to 1966. During that time there was a military coup in Indonesia which overthrew the government. Paramilitary groups (Gangs) then began carrying out mass killings of their political enemies, who they labeled as "Communists". The problem being that anyone who disagreed with the rising military power were labeled as such and summarily executed. Although the death toll will never be truly known, it is estimated that 500,000 to 3,000,000 people were killed as a result of the coup. The government it instilled is still in power. The film takes place during present day, and is centered around a group of ageing gangsters who carried out the militarily's violent executions. The gangsters boast about their involvement in the murders and seize the opportunity to re-create their violent pasts in all their graphic and sadistic detail.

The film focuses on Anwar Congo who is boastful about his role in the genocide, often times telling his horrific story with a laugh and a smile. A man so enamored by the prospect of fame this film could provide him, that he literally holds nothing back. He delights at the chance to go into graphic detail and recreate his atrocities, looking at it as a means to show the world the national hero he believes himself to be. He matter-of-factly talks about horrible things, like how its more efficient to kill someone with a wire rather than beat them to death.

But, Congo is haunted by his past, as any sane man would be. He repeatedly brings up the fact that he sees his victims in his dreams, admitting that he suffers from nightmares regularly. However, he spends not one minute apologizing or repenting for his acts. He struggles internally with whether or not what he did was evil or inhumane, constantly wondering if he will receive a punishment from God.

The films director Joseph Oppenheimer points the camera at these men and allows them to indict themselves. There are no leading questions, no gotcha moments, or bias introduced. The sheer bravado that multiple people show in admitting to killing thousands is just astonishing. It's not just murder either, several men in the movie admit to rampant rape, corruption, extortion, bribery, and smuggling. Its like these people have been waiting 50 years to divulge all the heinous shit they've done and once they start they can't help themselves.

We've not even touched on the paramilitary groups that still have a stranglehold on the nation and are more than happy to do this corrupt governments dirty work. In several scenes, that could easily be taken out of old WWII Hitler Youth propaganda videos, we see thousands of kids cheering on dictator like gang leaders as they shout into microphones about how their group is responsible for keeping the communist threat out of Indonesia. They constantly make thinly-veiled threats that they could become violent at any moment.

Look, I'll be honest with you, way smarter people than I have deconstructed this movie and written thousands of words on its subject matter, and if you are looking for that then there are some great pieces written about it. I recommend you check them out. However, I'm not those people so I'll just surmise it the best way I know how, with a list.

What follows is the top five craziest moments in The Act of Killing, and I swear the list could be fifteen items longer:

5. Anwar gleefully salsa dances on the site where he preformed dozens of executions by strangulation.

4. Anwar's extremely overweight sidekick, Herman Koto violently fellates a toothbrush (While only wearing a towel)

3. Anwar admits on Indonesian TV, to raucous applause, that he was inspired by films and most massacres had a theme like mob-movie or westerns. (He says this while wearing a cowboy hat with a sheriffs badge on it) 

2. Political hopeful Koto, who is running for office says openly and enthusiastically that if elected he will shamelessly extort and threaten his constituents.

1. In one of the films more surreal scenes, a dream-like musical number set to Born Free, one of Anwar's victims admiringly places a medal around his killer’s neck, saying “For executing me and sending me to heaven, I thank you a thousand times.”

It cannot be understated how unbelievable and brutal the reenactments are, and the brazenness of their actors there-in, truly is astonishing. It brings an awe to the movie that I've very rarely experienced while watching a documentary. It is important to remember these atrocities and the men responsible. If you can't get though it I highly suggest watching it, but I'll be honest, it's not easy.

Note: This review is based on the Directors Cut of the film which is significantly longer than the original. If watching the original some scenes may not appear. 

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