The Act of Killing has been called a masterpiece by the village voice. A documentary analyzing an unacknowledged genocide in Indonesia in the mid 1960s. It is the personal story of one of the perpetrators of those murders, Anwar, as he recreates his crimes in cartoonish reenactments. A film within a film and, most importantly, a story about how we write and rewrite history.
The director of the film, Joshua Oppenheimer, appeared on Democracy Now and PRI’s Studio 360 today. Obviously the documentary is making something of a splash, both in the States and in Indonesia where it has opened up a dialogue about the military coup which left thousands of dead some fifty years ago.
Psychologists have discussed at length how victims of trauma feel a compulsion to constantly reenact their trauma, looking for a re-do or perhaps a chance to understand an event that they cannot comprehend. Interestingly, The Act of Killing features the agent of a trauma reenacting and finding new understanding of their own traumatic actions.
The genocide in Indonesia was backed by the United States, it was reported to the news media as a positive event. The Act of Killing is all the more relevant this year as we hear about coup d’état in Egypt and Civil War in Syria, perhaps it’s a movie that can teach us something about how these words are used to twist the facts and distance ourselves from the reality of global death and murder. Maybe it can even help us to remember the inherent inaccuracies in a history written by the winners.
The Act of Killing opens this weekend at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City. The film’s trailer is below: