The Act Of Killing
This article originally appeared in FilmInk magazine.
Following a military coup in 1965, the Sumatran government undertook a horrific communist purge, slaughtering scores of men, women and children. The government utilised gangsters, constantly referred to as ‘free men’, to carry out the killings in whichever way they saw fit. Enter The Act of Killing’s Anwar Congo, a man who personally carried out approximately 1,000 of the murders and orchestrated many, many more. These were abhorrent acts for which Congo wasn’t punished, but lauded for by his government. For The Act of Killing, director Joshua Oppenheimer invited Congo to re-enact the killings and as such, forces him to reveal the toll such un-punished brutality takes on the soul. Produced by seminal documentarians Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, The Act of Killing is amongst the most powerfully affecting films likely to be seen.
The almost gleeful way in which Congo explains the methods they employed is staggering, yet painfully unavoidable viewing. The experience is completely draining and the emotional impact is devastating. Oppenheimer utilises his relationship with Congo to bypass historical context and instead explore the nature of evil itself. Alarmingly, despite the acts he’s committed, Congo actually comes across as almost relatable. The interplay with his friends, from the dim-witted Herman Koto to the constantly introspecting Adi Zulkadry, actually elicits quite a few laughs and Oppenheimer even braves moments of sheer flippancy. These fleeting, light-hearted moments are soon dwarfed by the introduction of a wider array of men involved in the killings. Particularly chilling are the leaders of the militant youth squad, Pemuda Pancasila, as they openly and jovially discuss raping and pillaging villages of ethnic-Chinese. The Act of Killing is brutally honest and in its exploration of truth and evil, Oppenheimer has managed to depict some of the most compelling and confronting cinema, fictional or otherwise.