Not a huge fan of the documentary but this one came recommended by many friends and it did make the Academy’s list for Best Documentary. Synopsis sounded interesting, so I streamed.
When the military took over governing Indonesia, they recruited assassins to get rid of detractors and communists. By ‘get rid of’, I mean murder in mass, to the staggering number of 1 million. This film contains interviews with those killers, however the method used was to ask them to act out what they did in any way they wanted.
The result will leave you speechless. Horrified. Puzzled. Conflicted. Laughing. Angry. No doubt you will want to look away, turn it off, blot it out.
But you won’t.
What struck me most was the ease with which these men talked about their past. They seemed happy to talk about it, proud even. They had every day concerns now – one worries how his fake teeth will look on camera. Another wonders if he will be able to recruit the right woman to play the ‘scared mother’ for his reenactment, all the while extorting money from shopkeepers like they were ATMs.
Rationalizations for what they did flowed freely. The one I remember most – ‘Of course, to kill another person is the worst crime. That’s why its important to convince yourself you have good reason before you do it’. Wow, I wish I could lie so convincingly to myself. Wait, no, I’m glad I can’t.
The humour for me came in the form of one assassin, acting out his past in sequined dresses and drag queen eye makeup. Nice, Priscilla – Killer Queen of the Jungle.
In the closing scenes we get a glimpse of what the director was trying to do with having this lot act out their pasts. Getting them to take a look at themselves using their own words as the smoking gun, perhaps to try to tweeze out one scrap of humanity. Did it work? Maybe so, at least on a small scale.
Its a fascinating 2 hours. The creator of the documentary, Joshua Oppenheimer, spent almost a decade putting this piece together. I can’t even imagine how the native Texan managed to befriend and recruit these men into a film or how he managed to refrain from judgement and bias. However, I’m glad he did and I’m certain The Act Of Killing will walk away with the Best Documentary Oscar.
I’m looking forward to his next feature – The Look of Silence, which reads like one of these men will have to face surviving family members of a man he killed.