In general I do not seek out movies which have shocking footage in them. I do not enjoy watching such footage even if it’s just make belief. So you will not make me happy with movies like Saw or similar ones. With a title like The Act of Killing you have an idea about what to expect. I decided to watch this since this isn’t fiction, it is a documentary about people who killed communists in Indonesia during the sixties. Within a year more than a million people lost their lives because of it. It was something I had not heard about and I thought it would be important to learn more. What makes this documentary unique though is that the executioners themselves talk about their acts openly.
The format of the movie isn’t very conventional either as the subjects are allowed to perform their acts in a movie format. This is done in various styles, including a gangster film and a western. Don’t expect full featured short films as often only single scenes are shown, but nonetheless it is strange to see the ease with how these people show their methods.
The stories they tell are sometimes unbelievable to hear. One of them tells that he had to meet the father of his girlfriend and that on the way to him he stabbed every Chinese person he saw. When he finally met up with the father he killed him as well. They are horrific stories and you keep hearing them, whether it is about the ways they killed their victims or one of them proudly telling how he liked to rape young girls. Not easy material to watch for anyone in other words.
Of course these men all have reasons in their own mind about why what they did was right and not all men seem to have regrets about what they did. What is more surprising and which really made me worry a lot was its depiction of various people currently in office and what they said. It shows that the people who killed are sometimes in office and still see that the “gangsters” are good for the country. Men who still ask for protection money from local businessmen. Knowing the right people and using paramilitary forces are very important as is having money during elections to buy votes. It made me wonder about Indonesian government, but also about others. People are not that different, no matter where they live and I could imagine this happening in any country. The people who did killings during the second world war never talked and because of that you created a specific image of them. This documentary shines the light on a dark page in world history and actually gives a voice to those people. It might not be an easy watch, but it is an important one you should not miss.