New Film on Indonesian Genocide: ‘The Act of Killing’

‘The Act of Killing’ and Indonesian Death Squads -







A remarkable, “hard to describe” new film focuses on murders and torture committed in 1960s Indonesia, exploring “the limits of human cruelty” according to one Bill Goodykoontz in the Arizona Republic:

The events initially addressed in “The Act of Killing” are little known in the West: the slaughter of as many as a million people in Indonesia following the military’s seizure of power there in 1965. The victims were labeled Communists but included labor leaders, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals, with paramilitary groups carrying out the killings at the behest of the Indonesian Army and with the support of the United States and its allies, who worried that Indonesia, like Vietnam, would fall into Communist hands.

In Indonesia, the killings were “a kind of open secret, kept discreetly hidden so that if you wanted to, you could pretend it wasn’t happening,” said John Roosa, a scholar of Indonesian history at the University of British Columbia and the author of “Pretext for Mass Murder,” the leading book about the 1965 massacres. “So this film has become a provocation, an impetus for Indonesians to go back to the perpetrators and say, ‘Tell us exactly what happened.’ ”

Organized killings occurred all across Indonesia, the world’s fourth most-populous country, but Mr. Oppenheimer focuses on Medan, a large city in northern Sumatra. There a group of so-called “movie gangsters,” fans of John Wayne and Marlon Brando, as well as of mafia and American B-movies, did much of the killing, inspired in part by the films they loved.

What form is this film? Does it conform to or transform the traditional documentary format?

In view of all those issues, it seems pertinent to ask if “The Act of Killing” is a documentary at all. Mr. Morris, who has thought and written about the subject at considerable length, has no doubts.


“Of course it’s a documentary,” he said. “Documentary is not about form, a set of rules that are either followed or not, it’s an investigation into the nature of the real world, into what people thought and why they thought what they thought.”

But Mr. Oppenheimer offered a more nuanced view. He distinguishes between the observational style of the film’s first half and what comes after it pivots to the re-enactments.

“I think it almost stops being a documentary altogether,” he said. “It becomes a kind of hallucinatory aria, a kind of fever dream.” At that point, he added, the film “transcends documentary” and becomes a strange hybrid creation.


via ‘The Act of Killing’ and Indonesian Death Squads –


2 thoughts on “New Film on Indonesian Genocide: ‘The Act of Killing’”

  1. This definitely looks like a very interesting documentary. It is always good to have different insight on events that have happened. I like the idea of the “strange hybrid creation”. This makes seeing a viewpoint of what happened in history more intriguing not only to those interested in the topic, but the common people as well. I do not know a lot about this occurrence, and this article has really spiked my interest.

  2. I honestly had no idea that Indonesia had suffered from a genocide like this. On a fairly frequent basis, it seems, I discover new genocides which I had never heard of. All this is indicative of an isolationist and “if it doesn’t hurt me, why bother?” perspective which, we, as a country largely “alone” on our continent, have traditionally fostered. However, strangely, and almost paradoxically, we are equally entangled in world affairs as we are disinterested in them. Particularly with the current Syrian crisis on our hands no one would deny that we do not take interest in affairs around the world. In fact, Many accuse us of taking TOO much interest. But I think the balance is struck as such–we are interested if it hurts our own interests, and disinterested if it doesn’t effect us, or if it perversely accomplishes something we would have done if it were not too immoral. I do not mean to sound too terribly cynical about our nation, because I am really only using the US as an example of what has become evident to me is the normal approach of almost every country in international affairs. What would be utterly unacceptable on a personal level is suddenly considered canny if not down-right brilliant in international affiars. Now how can we be alright with that?

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