The Act of Killing @ The Ross

Poster

“It is forbidden to kill and therefore all murderers are punished. Unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” I would like to add to Voltaire’s quote, “and to get away with murder and live to tell it regardless of circumstance surely will kill any and all feelings of remorse.” The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer’s arresting documentary features members of a killing machine in 1968 Indonesia, when its government was overthrown. The threat of communism followed, and executioners Anwar Congo–the dashing star of this cinematic jaunt–Herman Koto and their comrades killed more than 1,000 Chinese suspected of communism. In The Act of Killing, Oppenheimer appeals to Anwar Congo’s love of action film stars such as John Wayne and James Bond to recreate on camera those very acts of killing. The behind-the-scenes collaborations and discussions and the casting call are distressful; even more wearing on the spirit is the joie-de-vivre the executioners demonstrate as they talk about why each carried out the murders and reproduce with abandon how they did them. They are national heroes. Their communities welcome them and celebrate their pasts. They carry on the ordinary of everyday. They shop with their families. They dance. They sing. They tell bawdy jokes. More troubling, they smile and they smile and they smile. For the full 159 minutes, the camera, along with the audience, searches for grand gestures of sorrow or guilt. Even Anwar Congo hunts among his friends for a way to handle his sleepless nights that are filled with nightmares. Yet, all the camera can marshal is a glimmer of regret from him, but it is too little too late.

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