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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Act of Killing

Indonesian gangsters recreate their executions on film

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2012, Indonesian and English) During the year following the overthrow of Indonesia's government in 1965, a million or more (someone says 2.5 million) people accused of being communists were killed by gangsters and paramilitary organizations. More than 40 years later, documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, with co-directors Anonymous and Christine Cynn, offered former leaders of the death squads an opportunity to recreate their executions in the campaign to crush the communists.

The scenes of the movie they made were lavishly fantastic productions of fantasy - pretty girls dancing to "Born Free" with a waterfall in the green-and-misty background, welcoming the deceased to paradise - mingling humor with cruelty (a fat man in the role of a pregnant woman being assaulted), as well as realistic re-enactments of torture, rape, and destruction of homes, after which some of the actors have difficulty recovering their composure.

"I've tried to forget all this with good music," says Anwar Congo, as well as with alcohol, dancing, and drugs. He then demonstrates how he used a wire to strangle victims (a technique borrowed from Hollywood gangster films) to eliminate bloodshed, though he's critical of wearing white pants (he would have worn jeans) in the scene. Repeatedly the former thugs (motivated to murder after the communist government banned popular Western movies, denying them their lucrative ticket-scalping business) remark that the original meaning of the word "gangster" was "free man."

They freely admit to having had a good time and being unaffected while dispatching their victims, though Anwar now admits to having "bad dreams from killing people." A ghost appears to him in a scene from the movie - "I thought I killed you" - as a visitation of vengeance from the dead.

Newspaper publisher Ibrahim Sinik openly says he changed the answers people gave when he harshly interrogated them before beating and killing them because his duty was to convince his readers to hate those he deemed to be communists. Among the biggest paramilitary organizations, Pancasila Youth in orange-and-black uniforms, three million strong, played a leading part in executing their fellow countrymen. Chinese businessmen were singled out and threatened with death if they refused to pay bribes and blackmail; a gangster relates how he fatally stabbed his Chinese girlfriend's father.

Never held accountable by international law or expected to apologize - "war crimes" are determined by the winners (pointing out an example of the slaughter of American Indians), and they are the winners - some of the executioners have become rich and politically powerful: "We need gangsters to get things done." In his campaign for political office, with an avowed intention of getting rich from extortion, Herman Koto says that people were paid to attend rallies since there's no commitment among the population who are well aware that their politicians are corrupt. Others have gone crazy.

While boasting that they were more sadistic than in the movies portraying the Nazis, a gentle argument erupts as to whether or not there's a distinction between sadism and cruelty: "We were the cruel ones." If successful, a gangster, with his face made to look lacerated with makeup, realizes that the movie will reveal that they the gangsters, not their victims, were brutally inhumane. Another says history should show the truth since the now grown children of victims, though they may curse the gangsters under their breath, are too fearful to take revenge.

After playing the role of a torture victim and watching the video with his two grandsons, Anwar confesses his remorse and regret: "Honestly, I never expected it would look this awful."

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2013 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)