How do you process atrocities that have been committed without consequence? We have some path to coming to terms with “Shoah” knowing the ultimate defeat of the Nazi regime, but “The Act of Killing” gives us the unsettling experience of getting to know the perpetrators of crimes that will never be paid for.
In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown by the military and common gangsters were hired to lead death squads in the mass execution of Indonesians and ethnic Chinese suspected of being affiliated with communism. Because the government overthrow was never reversed, these executioners never faced consequences of any kind and to this day are living wealthy, proud lives. Anwar Congo is one such leader of death. Congo shares his story with documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer and takes part in a filmed recreation of the torture and killings that he personally took part in over forty years earlier.
As documentaries go, you can’t find subject matter much more appalling than the every-day look at the life of a man who has personally killed over 1,000 men and women under the pretense of political disposition. Congo is living in a reality distorted by his own wild rationalizations. The history of a nation and of a individual is written by the victor, and Congo’s warped personal history is defined by “doing what had to be done.” Oppenheimer hopes that through the reflective process of recreating the acts of torture and murder in a fictional film, Congo will come to understand the outside perspective of his actions.
These are leaders of brutal war crimes that are, unfathomably, completely unable or unwilling to understand how someone outside of Indonesia may see them as monsters. But even civilian Indonesians see it in their careful behavior around Congo and refusal to admit that they had any knowledge of the killings even after having lived and worked in close vicinity with the genocide.
“The Act of Killing” is a devastating, unprecedented document of the capabilities of mankind as powerful and important as they come. Oppenheimer leads us, and Congo, through a history of unregulated acts of murder and towards the film’s ultimately unforgettable conclusion.
Available now on Blu-ray/DVD
2 hrs. 2 min.