Movie Review: The Act of Killing

I’m not much of a movie person but for various reasons I have been to see Pacific Rim (YEAH! ROBOTS!), Wolverine (OK) and finally The Act of Killing all in the same month.  I usually see one or two movies a year.

Anyway, I wasn’t all that excited about seeing this one because frankly I’d rather read about something like this than see it.  That’s just me.  Also, as you might guess from the other two movies I saw, my taste in film is decidedly low-brow.  Robots, space-ships and super heroes please.

But I actually do take an interest in these things, again, in book form.  And I was basically pestered into going to see it.

On the plus side, I saw that Werner Herzog was an executive producer and I generally like his films.

First of all, I didn’t get it.  Second of all, I didn’t think it worked.  Finally, I was fucking horrified.  Watching this film was a deeply unpleasant experience.

I didn’t get it.

I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about world history and events, but Indonesia is a rather large blind spot for me.  I could have told you that there was a guy named Suharto, who overthrew a different guy named Sukarno (shit, was it the other way around?) and that Indonesia was under military rule for the second half of the 20th century.  I can’t tell you much of the particulars.

The movie is about some of the executioners during a period of mass killings in 1965-1966, when, according to the movie, around a million people died.  The guy he focuses on, a somewhat fittingly named Mr Anwar Congo, allegedly killed around a 1000 (!) people by his own hands.  But he wasn’t the architect of any policy.  Where does he fit in in the greater history of that era?  I don’t know.  It’s hinted that he’s famous, but I can’t evaluate that myself.  In a era when a million people were murdered, is a man who killed 1,000 notable?  I’m not asking a rhetorical question, I’m asking seriously, is that a lot or a little?  I don’t know.

I didn’t think it worked

I got the impression that the movie was trying to humanize Mr Congo.  I guess the point was- this could be any of us.  But I just can’t see myself murdering 1000 people with my bare hands.  I just can’t.  I’m not trying to say I’m a saint or anything.

I had this same problem with Herzog’s Grizzly Man.  It was just too outside my experience.

That being said, the parts where he focused on Congo’s fellow executioner who claimed to experience no regrets at all were terrifying.  I’d have liked to see more of that guy.  But that guy was probably too smart to spend a lot of time in front of the camera.

I was fucking horrified

The movie is basically a documentary shot around the executioners making a film reenacting what they did.  The reenactments were terrifying.  Some of the people who participated looked traumatized.  And the paramilitary soldiers reenacting the original acts looked waaaay too ready to commit some war crimes of their own.  Their leader, in one of the most frightening scenes in the movie, notices that maybe they’re acting a little too well and comments to the camera, basically, you know this makes us look really blood thirsty, which might give you the wrong impression.  Of course, we can be more bloodthirsty than this.  But I don’t want everyone to think that we are.

I kind of walked out of the movie wondering what to take away from it.  It was an achievement, getting these people to cooperate.  And I’m more likely to pick up a book about the history of Indonesia so I can learn more.   Beyond that, I don’t know.   I guess I’m just not a good audience for this sort of thing.


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