‘The Act Of Killing’: Review

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The Act Of Killing is indeed about the act of killing, but also its aftermath, the repercussions that come from living in and on top of a murderous regime, but like most would like, comeuppance is not always apparent. The film follows the current day lives of executors from the anti-Communist killing in Indonesia during the mid-1960s. We mainly shadow Anwar Congo, a death squad leader, who killed upwards of 1,000 people by strangling them with a wire. He and his co-horts gladly recreate their death sequences, in ranging genre “stage plays” as they descend again down this hellish tunnel, and arrive in some bizarre places.

As imagined, none of these men have particular regrets against killing thousands of people, because of course they were communists, it bred the luxurious lifestyle they have today, and it created several political and military organizations that today support his beliefs. It’s pretty haunting and terrifying how open these leaders are with the documentary crew, leaving nothing in the shadows as they speak honestly on what they’ve done. The only real evidence of pulling away is how the Pancasila group’s image might be perceived under some barbaric practices and recreations, but ultimately the organization chooses to leave these scenes in, as a “simulation of rage,” ironic to the killing practices that got them there in the first place.

We see these men engage in everyday tasks like going to the dentist, raising a family, drinking with company, all juxtaposing the horrors that befit these men so many years ago, and the openness which it is discussed, just like one would recall a vacation to Disneyland. It’s an interesting study into the minds of these men, admiring Hollywood films, and taking inspiration from such gangsters and movie start such as John Wayne and Al Pacino. They love play-acting their murder scenes, hamming it up like their favourite actor, having fun and re-enacting the deaths the caused so long ago, like it just happened yesterday.

Congo does often have doubts about his killings, waking up to horrifying nightmares of his atrocities, not being able to play one of his victims in one of the films anymore because he said he “felt what his victims felt.” There does seem to be some sort of moral twanging to his self, but who knows the actual depth of it, and it certainly doesn’t alleviate all the acts he’s done, and how he often still revels in it. As much so, the film explores the psychology of a person unlike anything I’ve seen before, in relation to genocides and dictatorships, as close as you could ever come.