Mass murderers reenact their crimes for fun in Joshua Oppenheimer’s new documentary, The Act of Killing.
The Act of Killing
is a completely new order of eye-popping, forehead-slapping
documentary. There’s never been a film quite like it, and the reasons
are twofold: One, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer approaches his subject
matter—Indonesia, its militia culture and its recent history—with wild
inventiveness, allowing his subjects to be co-creators in the process,
with startling and surreal results. Two, Indonesia itself. Whatever you
may know about it from NPR or the New York Times won’t prepare you for what you see here of the country’s blood-soaked dementia.
The aging maniacs we meet are veterans of the mid-’60s unrest that first saw a failed coup attempt precipitate the toppling of President Sukarno, and then an anti-communist backlash that swept through the islands and gave ad hoc militias free reign to murder anyone suspected of leftish leanings. Today,
Indonesia is a bustling and corrupt kleptocracy, and its militias
survive as popular and powerful public institutions. The men who run
them get in front of Oppenheimer’s camera (as well as on national TV)
and proudly crow about how many people they “brutally” killed. (The film
puts it at more than a million.) Beheadings, drownings, systematic
strangulations—these famous codgers remain “gangsters,” an Indonesian
use of the term that they say translates in English to “free men.” The
nation’s entire security infrastructure, protecting its industries and
government and emitting nonstop propaganda, is founded on reservoirs of
blood, and is still run like the Mob.