Skeletons in Indonesia's closet
By Hannah Green
LOS ANGELES - Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing is a transformative film. It presents a glimpse into one of the 20th century's lesser-known political mass killings: the extermination of suspected communists in Indonesia from 1965 to 1966. Unlike many other documentaries, however, The Act of Killing tells history through the eyes of the perpetrators.
Oppenheimer said that when he first started working in Indonesia, he was shocked to hear former executioners boasting about their many killings. The paramilitary groups that helped perpetrate the genocide still had power, and society continued to uphold them as heroes. In order to understand their boasting, Oppenheimer and his crew asked Anwar Congo, a retired executioner, and other members of the paramilitary group Pancasila Youth, to tell their story by reenacting their killings on film.
The result is as haunting as it is absurd. Anwar, the film's central figure, jumps from genre to genre as he struggles to capture his past. He casts himself first as a tough guy in a riff on American gangster films, then later as a bloodied corpse in a nightmare scenario where one of his victims seeks post-mortem revenge, and later as a victim of the same violence he perpetrated against others....