Friday, February 24, 2017

The Act of Killing

           Documentaries are one of the most important practices in filmmaking. By documenting reality, the filmmaker holds a mirror to society about issues they are passionate about. These films inspire, educate, and bring about action in their audiences. The Act of Killing presents the sadistic culture of the killers who participated in the 1965 Indonesian massacre. Instead of advancing the film through testimonials, The Act of Killing is prompted forward by the killers developing a fictional movie about their experience in the genocide. The fictional sets become a basis for Joshua Oppenheimer—the creator of The Act of Killing—to challenge the killers about the terror of what they did. When analyzing The Act of Killing, one must understand the documentaries context, audience, purpose, and point of view.
            In 1965, the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military. The government recruited young “gangsters” to be the leaders of their death squads against communists. These young men helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. They tortured, raped, and executed the alleged communists and their families. Unlike other genocides, Indonesia has seen no trials, no memorials to the victims, and no truth and reconciliation commission.  Today, the right-wing paramilitary organization that grew out of these death squads control the Indonesian parliament.
            The Act of Killing exposes the killers who performed unimaginable violence on other human
beings. These murderers not only accepted what they did, but often boasted the horrors they inflicted. This film reveals the violence of war, and is intended to be shown to Westerners who become bystanders to genocide overseas. When talking about this film, director Joshua Oppenheimer gave this statement:
 " Thereis a scene in The Act of Killing in which I accused one of the perpetrators of committing war crimes, and  responds by accusing the West of hypocrisy […] The U.S. and the UK helped engineer the Indonesian genocide, and for decades enthusiastically supported the military dictatorship that came to power through the slaughter. Neither the UK nor the U.S. can have an ethical relationship with Indonesia (or so many other countries across the Global South with similar histories of U.S.-sponsored state terrorism), until we acknowledge the crimes of the past, and our collective role in supporting, participating in, and — ultimately — ignoring those crimes."
Oppenheimer created this film in hope of an audience that would force the United States into acknowledging these crimes, and by putting Indonesia on trial. The film has been seen by many people of power. In 2014, The Act of Killing was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, along with many other awards.
            The purpose of The Act of Killing is to reveal that the violence we hope would be unimaginable is not only imagined, but also glorified and repeated by the perpetrators. It forces the audience to think critically about what makes it possible for mass genocides to occur continuously throughout history. Through displaying images of the horror that occurred, Oppenheimer forces the audience to become uncomfortable and terrified that this event happened with zero opposition. Although there is not a direct call-to-action, the horror depicted in this documentary inspire viewers and bring about a desire for change. They may fight for justice that results in changes in the balance of power, human rights tribunals, reparations, and official apologies.
            The most interesting aspect of this documentary is the point of view depicted. The film experiments with the killers’ perspective by having these men create fictional movie scenes about the killings that occurred. Some realize that the killings were wrong, feeling regretful and being haunted by the deaths. Others worry about the consequence of the story on their public image. Members of the
paramilitary movement argue that they should boast about the massacre of millions as it terrifies the public into submission. By having this unique point of view, the audience gets to look into the minds of killers and the act of killing.
           After watching this documentary, I am somber. Although there have been no changes to the acknowledgment of the Indonesian genocide, this film has reached millions of people and will continue to do so. After a screening for U.S. Congress members, Oppenheimer demanded that the U.S. acknowledge its role in the killings. I rate this film five nachos, as it inspired me to fight for this issue.


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