March 11: The Act of Killing (#11)

Day 11 brings the heaviest of all #DocuMarch films to date. The Act of Killing was only made a couple years ago (late 2012), but it's unlike anything you've ever seen before.

[Already seen The Act of Killing? Check out the follow-up, The Look of Silence

There have been several documentaries that explored genocide, but never like this. The Act of Killing actually features the men who slaughtered thousands of “communists” (anyone declared undesirable by the government) from 1965-1966, and the filmmaker literally has them - the murderers themselves - create filmed reenactments of the killings.

As you can imagine - is horrifying, gross, and totally surreal. Don't watch it before bed.

Another highly-rated doc on Rotten Tomatoes (95%), he film focuses on the Indonesian killings of 1965–66 as an "anti-communist purge" in which killed more than 500,000 people. Unsurprising due to the dark subject matter and tone of the documentary, Werner Herzog (from Into the Abyss, Grizzly Man, etc) was also involved in the production of The Act of Killing which won best documentary at the 2014 BAFTA awards, among many many others in the short time that it's been released. 

I tried two separate times to write a short summary of AoK, but it just never sounded as good as Wikipedia's did, so here you go:

"Following the failed military coup in 1965, the gangsters Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry were promoted from selling black market movie theatre tickets to leading the most powerful death squad in North Sumatra. They also extorted money from ethnic Chinese as the price for keeping their lives. Anwar is said to have personally killed 1,000 people by methods such as strangulation with wire."

“In accepting the award, director Joshua Oppenheimer asserted that the United States and the United Kingdom have “collective responsibility” for “participating in and ignoring” the crimes. After a screening for US Congress members, Oppenheimer demanded that the US acknowledge its role in the killings.”
— Wikipedia

THOUGHTS

I don't even know where to start, but I've never felt more thankful to have been born in the United States then I did after watching The Act of Killing. At least Rotten Tomatoes seemed to like it (95%), but if it feels slow & hard to follow at times due to the subtitles, stay with it... you'll be creeped out by how casual & cavalier these evil f*cking dudes act as they reenact horrific murders. Worse yet - the people around them who treat them like Gods for what they did for their government. 

There were a couple moments in the film where one of the killers (Anwar) succumbs to his emotions while reenacting a scene where he is portrayed as the victim of a strangulation. He asks the cameras to cut and he walks away from the set where he is seen sitting alone, obviously very affected by what he just felt (and probably empathizing with what those people whom he strangled must have also experienced). I struggled with the "these guys are monsters" vs "they were doing what they were told," emotions, but ultimately... it's up for you to decide. 

As much as I probably would enjoy this doc if I watched it again, I just didn't enjoy the feeling I was left with when it finally ended. I don't really want to watch it again, and that's why I gave it the lowest rating of anything from #DocuMarch thus far. 

TL;DR

A documentary about two genocidal maniacs who reenact their killings that took place 40 years ago in Indonesia. 

3 of 5 Stars

Onwards,
--Justin