Film Review: The Act of Killing

   Imagine, if you can, a journalist tracking down German war criminals and providing them with funds and technology to make a light-hearted, jocular musical about the bloody destruction of hundreds of thousand of lives.

   A documentary such as this is entirely, and reasonably, unthinkable - it's highly unlikely that such a movie would be green-lit, let alone released and, even less likely, nominated for an Oscar. Yet, somehow, Indonesia, and the brutal anti-communist purge of the 1960s, must be deemed more palatable for Western consumption by the movers and shakers in the movie industry. Perhaps its because the mass-murders took place in a land alien to many of our eyes, we can somehow watch The Act of Killing with a detachment which would be otherwise missing if, say, the Taliban were given funds to make a song and dance of September 11th? If this is indeed the case what does it say of the viewer's thoughts towards the innocent Indonesians who were killed? Do they amount to less than the Jews who were killed in the holocaust? Should we respect, and have more sensitivity to, those who were slain in the Twin Towers than the massacred Indonesians?

   The Act of Killing is a brutal movie with a brutal subject matter - it explores the loss of humanity and it asks the audience to forget about theirs too whilst the movie plays out. Oppenheimer's film, in which the thugs, gangsters and hoodlums who committed the acts of carnage in the 60s are essentially given free reign to gloat, preen and grandstand over their terrible crimes, is incredibly morally dubious. What are we to think of the men who walk free in Indonesia today despite their heinous wrong-doings? And what are we to think of Joshua Oppenheimer and the crew behind The Act of Killing who aid and abet these thugs' grand-standing?

   The only defense that can be offered for The Act of Killing would be to claim that the astonishingly unrepentant nature of it's subjects makes the trivialisation of some of the greatest crimes humanity has ever known an unusual sight in documentary cinema. Yet, for those whose ancestor's perished by the hands of these merciless hoodlums, seeing despicable criminals clowning in drag and replicating their murders must hardly be a cathartic experience. Oppenheimer has once again given power back to the thugs - true, they may appear as clowns as they stage their gaudy production numbers (and one may even finally show emotions bordering on understanding) but, alas, they are never held to be accountable for their monstrous actions.


  1. This doesn't sound like a nice film!

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