Brief Thoughts: The Act of Killing

I honestly wish I could delve deeper into certain movies, but alas, I get incredibly busy and can only deal with certain movies to a briefer extent than I would like sometimes.  This is why I write these occasional "Brief Thoughts" posts on movies I have seen, as I want to at least offer some of my own perspective on them.  This "Brief Thoughts" post will focus on the Oscar-nominated documentary The Act of Killing, from director Joshua Oppenheimer.  The film is currently available on Netflix Instant Watch, among other sources.

The Act of Killing:  4 1/2 out of 5

"Imagine, in all this darkness, it's like we're living at the end of the world. We look around, there's only darkness. It's so very terrifying"

The only thing crazier than the idea of death squad leaders having power over a country is the fact that it not only happened, but continues to be going on.  The Act of Killing is a fascinating documentary that delves into the lives of former Indonesian death squad leaders and gives them the task of reenacting their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.  During all of this, time is taken to reflect on the past, explain how these men when about killing thousands, with the top off of getting to see these reenactments take place, each one really showing some different sides of the people involved in putting them together.

I knew what this film was about going into it and while I would not say it is too horrific to watch necessarily, the fact that these reenactments and the various conversations dealing with some pretty horrific subject matter may certainly test the limits of some.  Dealing not only with the concept of multiple murders, but from the perspective of men who have lived full lives, with these actions merely playing a part in their "careers", while they still remain in power, is the kind of thing that can really be alarming and stick with someone if they let the concept get into their head.  With that said, the notion of this is also pretty fascinating and opens up plenty of avenues for further questioning and debate.

While I have very specific opinions surrounding this next point, the fact that these guys have used movies as a method for developing various means for executing their victims certainly brings up the idea of whether or not violence in films leads to the behavior of individuals.  This is just one of the many points that the film brings up, but there is so much more that The Act of Killing delves into, which makes the film all the more intriguing and important.  The assured nature of the film's editing only further adds to its quality, which I hear is even better in the "director's cut" version of the film.

There are certainly obvious questions surrounding the kind of people these men are, along with what they have taken away from their experiences, but the film also allows for consideration of how the directions of governing bodies have changed over the years, what the state of leadership once meant and what it means now to be considered one who opposes the establishment that is in place.  I could go on, but this is not only a brutal film to think about, but one that really has a crazy amount of concepts to explore.  All of this and the film still finds time to depict the reenactments, some of which are very surreal, along with footage of these men watching this footage they have created.  It truly is a trip.

This is the first feature length documentary from director Joshua Oppenheimer, who worked with a co-director and many others who chose to be credited as "Anonymous" out of fear of death threats or worse, but there is a strong level of confidence on screen, as one gets to see a perspective that is rarely shown and all the more effective because of it.  This is a documentary about a scenario where the "bad guys" won and it is worth the time of anyone with even a passing interest in this material, as it is easily one of the best documentaries of 2013, let alone in some time.

"Why did I have to kill them? I had to kill... My conscience told me they had to be killed."

Aaron is a writer/reviewer for  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at


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