“The Act of Killing” (2013): have you people seen this?

20 January 2014

Streaming on Netflix now is the most jaw-droppingly amazing documentary I have ever seen: The Act of Killing. Co-directors Christine Cynn, Joshua Oppenheimer, and an anonymous Indonesian interviewed a series of Indonesian executioners who formed an anti-Communist death squad in 1965 and 1966, just after Suharto came to power. No — these aren’t interviews. These executioners eagerly re-create the scenes of killing, enlisting small armies of fellow Indonesians to play the roles of their victims, showing precisely how to kill without splattering yourself with blood — because they are still proud of those murders. When shown playbacks of these scenes, the men become entranced by the opportunity to make their appearances all the more theatrical — so they help to create new footage in the style of their favorite Hollywood films: gangster tales, westerns, and musicals.

TAOK-still-L-GradA simplistic viewer of The Act of Killing might take away from the film something like, “Mental note: do not visit Indonesia.” Or, “How is it that these criminals against humanity are still walking the streets?” But after a while you simply marvel at the human capacity to see oneself as a hero — a Hollywood-style hero — no matter what. Is this film actually an indictment of what Hollywood has done to us?

You have to see it. It’s the one thing that has helped me survive the fact that Sarah Polley’s brilliant Stories We Tell wasn’t even nominated for an Academy Award. (Cue my annual Oscar bitchfest.)

7 Responses to ““The Act of Killing” (2013): have you people seen this?”

  1. eteokretan Says:

    Fascinating! Will watch it. And yes, there was much to bitch about at the Oscars, wasn’t there?

    • Didion Says:

      Oh my god. It’s not very often that you see a film like this and think, “How did they do that?” with this kind of awe. Or, rather, I used to marvel at car chases and explosions onscreen; now it’s documentaries that do this to me.

      So much to complain about with the Oscars. I’m building up a good & proper rant.

  2. Orlando Says:

    I would see it less as a matter of what Hollywood has done to us, than an indication of the sickly corner of human nature that Hollywood identified and exploited.

  3. eteokretan Says:

    Interesting Guardian article on this film. Admittedly, I read the article too quickly. Hellishly busy right now.


  4. Oscars were never going to give this movie credit due to the US’s alleged involvement with the Indonesian massacre’s. Sad. This documentary was very raw but so needed.

    • Didion Says:

      I could. not. believe. it didn’t win. I liked 30 Feet From Stardom a lot for the stories it told, but it was not an especially good documentary. The fact that it won indicates that the people who vote in that category don’t really understand what documentary can do.

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