Post D: Was it really Acting in ‘The Act of Killing’?

The “documentary”, The Act of Killing, addresses the genocide of Communist Party members in Indonesia between 1965-1966, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. It documents the Indonesian death squads that carried out mass murders of alleged communists for the government. What creates this documentary to stand out from the others, is how Oppenheimer chronicles these killings. There was an inherent madness in his approach. He tracked down the men who actually committed the murders, to reenact these moments and participate in the film. As quoted by executive producer Werner Herzog, “they happily agreed to do so, with the emphasis on happily”. The killers re-enacted their crimes through juxtaposing the torturous cruelty with otherworldly antics, dancing and vivid colours. Unlike other documentary films, Oppenheimer blurs the line between a good and evil narrative, where the borderline between documentary and fiction is blurred. The amount of stylization and surrealism leaves the audience in a land between fantasy and reality. The audience is furthermore shown the killers everyday activities, allowing them to question and seek their own answers. In an interview on vice, Oppenheimer states that, “most movies try to kill thinking. They take thought and try to stick it in its back. This is a movie that encourages people to think”

Re-creating the brutal killing scenes within the film
Re-creating the brutal killing scenes within the film

Due to the actors re-enacting scenes that they inherently performed during the genocide, it makes you question whether the performance is real or not. Its ambiguity makes the film so powerful and unique. The documentary is trying to communicate something about the real world, through entering and exploring the idea of something other than a journalistic point of view.

Actors reenacting a scene in film, 'The Act of Killing'
Actors reenacting a scene in film, ‘The Act of Killing’

The film was screen as a university in Yogyakarta, to a mixed group of students, teachers and friends of the university. The film resulted in a vast range of opinions on the subject matter. Although many questioned the film and the message it is portraying, the students, parents and teachers at the university had a universal acknowledgement that films central message is impossible to ignore and would be “ground-breaking in helping Indonesia break its silence about its history.”

References:

  1. Bjerregaard, M. 2014, ‘What Indonesians really think about the Act of Killing’ The Guardian, News and Media Limited, viewed 25th April, 2015 <http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/mar/05/act-of-killing-screening-in-indonesia>
  2. Rohter, L, 2013, ‘A Movie’s Killers Are All Too Real: The Act of Killing and Indonesian Death Squads’, New York Times, viewed 25th April 2015 <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/movies/the-act-of-killing-and-indonesian-death-squads.html?_r=0>
  3. Salam, R, 2014, The VICE Podcast – Joshua Oppenheimer on ‘The Act of Killing’ VICE, Media LLC, viewed 25th April, 2015  <http://www.vice.com/read/the-vice-podcast-joshua-oppenheimer-on-the-act-of-killing>
  4. The Act Of Killing, 2012, DVD, Joshua Oppenheimer
  5. Photo 1 Reference: http://i1.wp.com/24fpsverite.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/The-Act-of-Killing-3.jpg viewed 26th April, 2015
  6. Photo 2 Reference: http://www.fansshare.com/gallery/photos/13332779/preparing-for-reenactment-scene-from-drafthouse-films-documentary-the-act-of-killing-seducing-mr-perfect/?displaying viewed 26th April, 2015
  7. Photo 3 Reference: http://anakfilm.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/565x339xThe-Act-Of-Killing-1_TAOK_FISH_framegrab.jpg.pagespeed.ic.A6vcjVHDp1.jpg viewed 26th April, 2015
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