Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
With: Anwar Congo

Anwar Congo, an old, slim, dressed to the nines Indonesian national hero, along with his friends Adi Zulkadry and Herman Koto, proudly narrated their history as gangsters when they were young. The meaning of "gangster" according to them is "free men".

Back in 1965, gangsters were promoted to execute communists and anyone who opposed the military dictatorship. Because of this, hundreds of thousands of people were murdered. Anwar is one of the gangsters hired by the military to execute the killings. Usually by choking with wire, he killed an estimate of 1,000 people. Documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer met him and his fellows, asked them to re-enact the killings in whatever ways they want.

These gangsters boasted how they gambled, smuggled, went to night clubs, bought good clothes with their mugged money, rigged elections in their favor, displayed their notoriety like how 'bad boys' do in films. In detail, they also described the communist killings during their time. Anwar even demonstrated his favorite way of killing and danced the cha-cha right after his demonstration. They're laughing, singing and dancing guiltless like they never did anything wrong. In fact, they justified why the operation of the military during the killings was right and cited the Nazis and Bush as examples of their vindication. All this while they plan on reenacting the killings. Anwar, Herman and Adi chose to portray the killings through their favorite film genres: western, gangster and musical.

They also planned to include humor in the film stating that moviegoers are interested in seeing wars, Nazis, blood and other violent scenes. The inclusion of humor is for the kids who they intended as part of their audience. It features scenes with fat Herman dressed as a woman while beheading Anwar, watching beautiful dancing girls as they come out of a giant Magikarp-looking fish in a fascinating nature backdrop, worshiping and dancing in the paradise to the music of 'Born Free', killings in basements while they're dressed up like Al Pacino in 'The Godfather' and de Niro in 'Goodfellas'. The scenes are beautifully shot and sort of philosophical, but they're also creepy and out of this world at the same time. Their main goal, however, is to show their history: that communists are the bad ones. I was waiting for them to mention that they do not want to witness another genocide in the present and future time as their reason in making this film. But unfortunately, it is not part of their motive.  Their dramatization is astonishing and often painful to watch and the final product is just weird and unimaginable. Mindblowing and powerful.

In the end, Oppenheimer's experiment showed the ounce of humanity and morality in this documentary, especially in Anwar. As they choose to relive the killings themselves, the reenactments begin to take over their reality in what seems like signs of their guilt and moral sense. One can tell as they wrap up the film and as they watch the result that they start thinking differently about their past actions. It seems as if they finally realized their wrongdoings and they're agitated by it. Nightmares start to disturb Anwar especially when he's about to sleep. And in the powerful last minutes of the documentary, Anwar wanders around the place where he cha-cha'd, the place where he personally killed thousands of people, gagging profusely, creating disturbing and ugly sounds of vomit. Silenced, he wept the tears falling from his eyes. The scene shifted to Anwar dancing with Herman, along with the beautiful girls beside the giant fish

The documentary ended that way leaving me with an unexplained feeling. I never imagined evil things like genocides and massacres as nothing for other people. We've been taught that there's goodness in every human being but even if that's true, with how these cantankerous maniacs celebrated while reminiscing the cruelties and sadism that they did, is just shattering and confusing. How can they possibly think that their actions in the past and what they say to justify themselves and their actions in the present time is normal? How can they be so unapologetic? How can they be so inhuman? Good thing is that this documentary ends with a few seconds of purge, but even then, the creepy material exhibited in this film is hard to forget. I slept shortly after seeing it and in the middle of my sleep, I woke up still thinking about it. No exaggerations, The Act of Killing is a stunning and an eye-opening documentary.