The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing

Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer
115 minutes

New England Premiere

Indonesian with English subtitles

In this powerful, revelatory, and jaw-dropping documentary, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer delves into the darkest reaches of human nature, exploring the aftermath of the most brutal era in Indonesian history. After a failed coup in the 1960s, death squads crossed the nation, killing as many as a million people in an attempt to purge all alleged communists and sympathizers.

These self-appointed “gangsters” have never been called to justice for their participation in murder. In fact, they were considered patriots and heroes and gained prominence in their communities. Today, they live comfortably, without remorse; some are neighbors to the relatives of those they hunted and slaughtered. Oppenheimer found that these relatives were too fearful to tell their stories on camera; they recommended that he speak to the killers themselves. In doing so, Oppenheimer met men like Anwar Congo, the founder of a paramilitary group, who unnervingly boast of their bloody deeds.

This story of mass murder unspools in an unconventional way. Oppenheimer and his production team (most kept anonymous due to the dangers of participating in this film) convince these gangsters to re-create their actions. Being fans of Hollywood films and full of ego, they eagerly embrace the venture, writing screenplays and casting the roles. The results are bizarre, surreal, and chilling.

Executive-produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, this documentary offers “history as written by the victors,” in an unprecedented form. It begins by reflecting reality through the creation of artifice, but this soon yields to an even more relevant and frightening view of human nature and the capacity of evil. This film is a true masterpiece unlike any documentary ever seen—one with implications that linger long after one leaves the cinema.