A documentary crew talks to Anwar Congo, one of the pivotal figures in the 1965 genocide of Communists in Indonesia. It immediately becomes clear that Congo and his supporters revel in the murders, so they are encouraged to recreate scenes they remember… With surprising results.
The Act Of Killing is a strange, but fascinating movie. It is clear that Anwar Congo and his men are revered and feared in Indonesia, but they also seem to be emotionally stunted; they revel in the ‘glory’ of having personally murdered countless people, and gleefully (at first) re-enact their discoveries about the most ‘efficient’ way of killing people. Congo dances on a rooftop that the used to murder people on, before confessing that he gets through his days using music, dancing and drugs.
The filmmakers take the brave decision to ask these men to recreate death scenes that they participated in. At first, much attention is paid to the props, the sets, the locations; Congo and his associates believe that this film will make them famous, and allow their ‘glory’ to live on throughout time. However, it is not long before the enormity of the 1965 killings begin to weigh on Congo, and cracks appear in his long held beliefs.
The Act of Killing is an interesting concept for a film; while the filmmakers try not to be biased towards the action on screen and allow the audience to make their own decisions about the men, the very notion of asking Congo and his associates to re-create events from their past, means that they are no longer impartial, they are the catalysts that set the story in motion. This does not mean, however, that the film is any less impacting; the scenes where Congo shows disgust at what he has done, and shows his acting debut – in a violent scene – to his young grandchildren, show that while Congo has the ability to change, perhaps this is beyond his reach.
There are issues with the film, and these mostly come from the production end of things. At 115 minutes, the film feels every second of its length, especially when the audience is asked to endure scenes of the men glorifying mass murder. There are also a number of sub plots that could have been cut out. As well as this, while the killings are explained in the opening scenes of the film, there is a distinct lack of historical context throughout, although it could be argued that this is not a film about history, but remorse.
The Act of Killing is an uncompromising, unflinching and uncomfortable look at the belief systems held by those who hold power. There are issues with the film, but this is a fascinating look at what happens when the power of conviction meets the enormity of truth and morality.