49 of 366: The Act of Killing

This may not be a fitting introduction to a post about a very dark and hard to watch documentary, but Doug Benson mentioned my movie challenge progress during one of his Doug Loves Minis episodes this week. I heard it this morning and had an extreme geek-out moment when he mentioned my Three Kings post and how that is his favorite David O. Russell movie.

I don’t expect that he has read my blog, but I was happy to make it into the mix of other fans he has mentioned for their movie challenge status and want to say that so far this challenge has been very positive in my life as a goal I know I can accomplish this year and who knows where it will take me. So thank you, Mr. Benson.



There really is no proper segue from that to The Act of Killing, so I am just going to get into it. I rented the film so I could ultimately keep up with seeing the Oscar nominees this year, including the follow-up to The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence.

The first of the two focuses on Indonesia in 1965 after the government is overthrown by the military and anyone who challenges the new leaders was considered a communist and ultimately killed.

The killing came from gangsters in the country with a reputation for violence and who willingly formed death squads to execute the supposed traitors. They killed more than a million people and their leader, Anwar Congo, did many of the acts with his own hands. They used inhumane, brutal practices and supposedly felt no wrongdoing or remorse. They used violence they had seen in the movies and when The Act of Killing came about were tasked with reenacting or retelling what they did in 1965 as they saw fit.

The result in the film by Joshua Oppenheimer is an open look into their madness translated into of movie of its own to show how they plotted the deaths. Throughout the documentary and making of Anwar’s movie,  I just kept trying to uncover or analyze what they really felt about their acts.

Did they have to do it? Did they deep down think it was wrong or struggle with taking so many human lives using extreme violence?

For the most part I thought it was hard to tell, but Anwar was left with nightmares and some struggle with it — on what level is unclear.

Of course it’s never even close to the point where you feel bad for them, and you wonder if participating in the new film was just a push for more attention on what they did, but in the end how the story was told was effective. Other than that, it leaves many unanswered questions. My manager at work, no spoilers here really, told me there was some controversy about the final scene of the film and that the timing of when it happened  was not consistent with its placement in the story, causing some over-dramatization.

My first reaction was I wanted to read more about the controversy, but then I decided I would rather not know. It is unsettling, to say the least, that what the death squad members did  was allowed and how they have carried on in their lives since then.

It’s important to see The Act of Killing and come to your own conclusion. It’s as much educational about that point in history as it is disturbing and heartbreaking on all sides.

I will leave it at that and, even though I am sure it is equally if not more dark, I look forward to watching The Look of Silence. From what I know it focuses on the victims’ side of what happened and I am trying to go into watching it without any more details.

Maybe it will complete the picture of The Act of Killing, or present more questions, but from what I have seen so far both films are new accomplishments in storytelling worth seeing for that reason and so many more.









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