Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Act of Killing hits the bruise

A few years ago I was playing a boxing video game against a friend. I didn't really know what I was doing but as we were playing a long, multi-round match against each other. A few rounds in I saw that my friend's virtual fighter was getting a bruise just below his left eye. So I targeted it. As the match progressed, I saw the bruise was getting darker and darker and the announcer said it was a cause for concern. I kept hitting that spot over and over until the injury got so bad the fight was stopped

Tonight when I saw The Act of Killing, a documentary that talks to retired gangsters who committed mass murders in the 1960s in Indonesia and are treated as celebrities today, I felt that the director spotted a bruise on one of his subjects and punched it until the man broke.

Like all the men highlighted in The Act of Killing, Anwar Congo was never punished for his major human rights violations. He estimated that he killed a thousand people by strangulation, bludgeoning and decapitation. He never felt bad about it because most of them were suspected communists and the communists were the likely culprits of a failed military coup. However, Congo is still haunted by them in his dreams.

The filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer got Congo and several others to reenact the killings. Some of the reenactments were accurate but others were in abstract settings such as a western or gangster movie scene. During a reenactment where Congo played a victim being strangled by wire he started to feel upset and wanted to stop. Later, he viewed the footage from that scene and started to cry because he felt he knew what his victims went though. Oppenheimer told him he knew it was only an act while the victims knew they were being killed.

When Congo started wiping away tears I knew they were calling the match. Oppenheimer pounded that bruise until it bled.

This is a phenomenal piece. When the credits started the entire theater sat mute for a long time, creating the most palpable uncomfortable silence I have ever seen a public performance. I can't recommend this film highly enough.

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