The Act of Killing

Well, MNFC-ers, can I start by saying what a pleasure it was to be with you all once again for a special guest appearance (aside from having to travel to the arse-end of nowhere – sorry, Adam).

Adam completed his second foray into the world of documentary, but his choice could not have been more different to King of Kong. Having decided that he was just too happy after his recent holiday, Adam selected Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated, widely-admired but controversial film The Act of Killing to bring himself and the rest of us back to reality.

But is reality the word we should use at this point? Oppenheimer’s film takes us into an uncomfortable world of real-life atrocities viewed through the creative lens of its perpetrators, creating a strange mix of confessions, gangsters and completely bonkers scenes of dancing and cross-dressing.


The film addresses the mass killings of Communists and suspected Communists in 1960s Indonesia through the eyes of Anwar Congo and his fellow gangsters or ‘free men’, as they try to put together a film re-enacting the killings they carried out. In the words of Winston Churchill, “History is written by the victors’, and nowhere is this more evident than in this film; mass killers are respected, feted by politicians, and celebrated for their past actions on television.

History in Indonesia has been taught from the point of view that the mass killings of Communists were necessary and justified, ironically using a film to put forward that point of view. In a very interesting interview with Sight & Sound, Oppenheimer has expressed his hope that his film will start a more open dialogue in Indonesia about what happened.

The Act of Killing certainly provoked a lot of chin-stroking amongst the film fascists, and has certainly stayed in my mind for many days since. I’m not sure what was more chilling: Anwar and his smiling belief in his past actions that was undercut by nightmares and a certain amount of (real?) remorse, or his friend who coldly acknowledged the cruelty of what they had done and how their actions may be perceived by viewers of the film but who had consciously decided not to feel any guilt or remorse.

In spite of having received almost universal accolades from film critics, there have been negative reactions to it, including this notable one from the editor of the BBC’s Storyville documentary series, who dismisses it as “a high-minded snuff movie”.

For those of you who want to find out more about the killings, the slightly worryingly named Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence has an article looking at them in depth. The Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs has posted a list of interesting ethical questions about the documentary itself and issues of glorification of mass murderers, and whether film can really have an impact on human rights dialogue.

For those of you who feel that insufficient attention was paid to the victims, Joshua Oppenheimer has completed another film called The Look of Silence that looks at the same period from the point of view of the family of a victim.

So, it is certainly not Tuesday and my Review skills are somewhat rusty but I’ve enjoyed venturing back into the world of extreme Googling for your benefit, even if my usual mix of irreverence and random links didn’t really seem appropriate here. I’ll leave you with the answer to the question everyone really wanted an answer to at the end of that film: what the hell was that giant fish-thing?! Friends, it was a former restaurant.

Becca xx

One thought on “The Act of Killing

  1. Pingback: Best of Enemies | MONDAY NIGHT FILM CLUB

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s