The Act of Killing (2012): The ‘Joy’ of Killing

Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated documentary, The Act of Killing (2012), is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, and portrays a horrific situation with integrity and as much honesty as can be hoped for in a narrative based documentary. The film focuses on Anwar Congo and his friends, all members of the Pancisila Youth, a paramilitary group in Indonesia. They took part in the torture and murder of over a million people (mostly communists) during the 1960s, as part of a takeover by the new pro-regime paramilitary Government. Oppenheimer takes this opportunity to play with the conventions of traditional documentaries by encouraging Anwar and his friends to create a film by re-enacting their murders and actions through the style of their favourite American movies. However the use of costume, music and the abundance of joy in Anwar and his actors combine to reflect a surreal atmosphere and a country’s disturbing satisfaction in recreating their past horrors. Anwar, the self-defined ‘gangster’ expresses pride in his actions and discusses them flippantly, however throughout the film it becomes clear that Anwar hides behind this façade of heroic pride and Oppenheimer’s use of close-ups reveal haunted eyes and tears. Whether this is in its entirety a clever construction on Anwar’s part in playing to the cameras or a haunted man faced with the realisation and guilt of his crimes, this is a film that I urge everyone to see, regardless of how harrowing it can be.


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