When I read the synopsis of The Act of Killing, I wasn’t completely convinced. The title makes it sound like an action film, but it’s not that at all. In 1965-1966 in Indonesia, as part of a military coup, over 1 million people were killed, not just by the military, but by paramilitary and “gangsters”.
Because the extermination of those people accused of being communists was sanctioned by the government, none of the people involved had to go to prison for their crimes. In fact, at one point it’s mentioned that because the events took place over 40 years before, the statute of limitations has expired.
This documentary (the directors cut is around 159mins) goes beyond just interviewing some of the people involved in this, it gives them a chance to represent their killings on film, in whatever way they want. These scenes are interspersed with footage of the making of the scenes, interviews with some of these people, and reaction shots as the people watch the scenes they were in.
That the gangsters seem to have a long history of appreciating cinema makes the film all the more complex. I had the opportunity to hear the director introduce the film: he framed it as a story about evil, and what it means to be human. It’s fascinating to see how people who have been involved in such events justify them.
This movie is going to stay with me for a long time. Here’s the trailer.