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.

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