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A-OK

02.19.2014

So… ‘The Act of Killing’. Omg.

One of the strangest, and best, movies I have ever seen. Unlike its fellow war-torn-country documentaries it does not use footage (as in, zero historical archive) to belabor its points and shock the audience with strewn bodies in gritty black-and-white. Effective enough, but here, the exact opposite. This film is shockingly bright, insanely colorful, celebratory, frighteningly unreal, all in the service of a narrative about mass murderers and their death squads in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, and those who perpetrated them–and who to this day remain in power.

The effect is pugilistic. It knocks your breath out with disbelief, and the next moment you’re struggling to breathe because your laughing so hard. It is one of the funniest films I have ever seen. You will weep with laughter (one of the main gangsters looks and acts like a surreal male twin of Melissa McCarthy’s character in Bridesmaids) at the same time as you weep with the horrifying reality of the thing you find yourself laughing about.

It has long fascinated me how people in non-Western (and especially poor) countries have assimilated Western products and trends into their lives. Straw huts with flat screen tvs, slums full of high-heels and purses and disseminated kitsch from American stores. Without knowing it, or even necessarily meaning to (beyond the inhuman logic of capitalism), we’ve forced ourselves and our products upon these people–people we neither think about nor care much for. As we sent weapons to Indonesian military leaders who in turn supplied them to the mass killers, so do we continue to send tight jeans and fast food and makeup and movies and singing plastic fish that hang on the wall. One of the most arresting parts of the film is a scene of one of the murderer-gangsters taking his wife and daughter shopping at a nearby mall. The mall looks exactly like any in the hundreds of American suburbs–same aesthetic, same stores, same goods for sale. During the visit there is a voice-over in which the man describes additional details about the acts of killing some of the millions of victims of those two years. The juxtaposition is astute. One kind of imposition supplanted by another, with different results but the same apathetic attitude of the American public and their politicians. It’s even more poignant when you discover the killings were promulgated most frequently under the aegis of anti-communism. Taking the film for evidence, it seems as though still today there is no one the people of Indonesia despise more than a communist. Thus did the capitalistic fervor of the Cold War manifest itself in both ways: killing and consumerism.

It’s hard to watch this film without concluding that the entire country of Indonesia must be devoid of self-reflection. People acting out scenes of real murder without showing any remorse or even awareness of possible immorality is shocking. But then you remember that these people are of the group still in power, still making the rules, setting the dialogue (an incredible scene during the filming of a talk show depicts a young, female host–perhaps born in the late eighties/early nineties–laughing and smiling knowingly when her guests chat about killing all the communists), and that not just history but conscience itself is determined by the victors. How many Americans do you know who feel shameful remorse at the dual dropping of the A-bomb?

See this film, is all I can say. It’s fantastic, both ways.

AOK

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From → Watchings

One Comment
  1. Can’t find this in France, but I would love to see it.

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