There are only a handful of documentaries that are powerful enough to stick with a person for the rest of his or her life, and The Act Of Killing documentary is undoubtedly one of them. It is one of the most disturbing looks into the human psyche ever captured on film and it features some of the most ruthless and unapologetic murderers. The subjects of this film were complicit in the Indonesian massacres of 1965 - a genocide of epic proportions.
The Act Of Killing contains some of the worst moments of any documentary. And it goes way beyond interviews, as filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer offers the killers an opportunity to make a movie of their very own. Complete with costumes, makeup, and dance routines, the killers relive the massacre in true Hollywood fashion. From their perspective, they were heroes doing their duty, but this tale of Indonesia's death squads shows true darkness. The Act of Killing is a must watch for anyone who wants a glimpse of unadulterated evil.
Real Life Murderers Are Asked To Reenact Their Crimes On FilmPhoto: Drafthouse Films
Perhaps the darkest part of this whole documentary is the film within a film - the reenactments of these brutal crimes. Director Joshua Oppenheimer offers the killers a chance to star in their very own movie, one that depicts the true crimes that they committed in the 1960s. All of the "actors" are giddily excited by the chance to act in a film, especially one that glorifies their own past. The men are intimately involved in the filmmaking process as they describe the scenes they need to shoot and even take the camera crew to some of the locations where they committed murder. They are rarely remorseful.
Anwar Congo, The Film's Main Subject, Seems To Be A MonsterPhoto: Drafthouse Films
Anwar Congo, the main focus of The Act Of Killing, is a complicated man. He doesn't look like a mass murderer and his family thinks of him as a hero and loving grandfather. Congo has a complicated relationship with his past, though, one that straddles the line between pride and guilt. His actions are monstrous and he boasts of killing at least 1,000 people by himself. The elderly man details all of his past, showing the viewer how he tied piano wire around the throats of his victims and pulled until they stopped struggling.
He goes on about how fun it all was and how much joy he took in his work. It's one of the most disturbing series of interviews.
The Film's Director Can Never Go Back To IndonesiaPhoto: Mogens Engelund / Wikimedia Commons
Director Joshua Oppenheimer traveled back and forth from Indonesia for years in order to complete this film and he made a lot of enemies in the process. Oppenheimer himself admits that it would be wildly unsafe to return to Indonesia, as it is quite possible that the killers he exposed might want him dead. Many of the film's crew members, some of whom were Indonesian, chose to remain anonymous in the credits so that they wouldn't suffer the wrath of vengeful gangsters.
Not all of the killers are upset with Oppenheimer, however. The film's main subject, Anwar Congo, still has a decent relationship with the director. They even Skype occasionally, calling each other about once a month.
Thousands Of People Died In The Communist Purge That The Documentary Focuses OnPhoto: Maksim / Wikimedia Commons
The film follows only a few men who were a part of a much wider genocide that took place in Indonesia during the mid 1960s. Commonly referred to as the Indonesia massacres, the genocide was part of an effort to eradicate all communists from the country after the Indonesian communist party was accused of murdering seven high ranking generals. While it is quite possible that the communists had nothing to do with the deaths of the generals, the entire nation suffered the consequences.
The assassinations were used as an excuse to kill all undesirables, not just members of the communist party. Ethnic Chinese people, poor farmers, and educated liberals were also targeted indiscriminately. In the end, some 500,000 to 1,000,000 people were killed in the purge.