‘To the victor goes the spoils.’
That’s one of the hard truths to come out of The Act of Killing. This documentary is dark, and offensive (yes, even I can be offended if pushed hard enough), and chilling. Don’t look for a lot of humor here; the funniest moment to me was hearing a politician very, very weakly try to talk out of both sides of his mouth at once. And yes, even that ties into the overall cynicism that hovers over this film.
The story of this film centers around a man named Anwar, a member of an Indonesian death squad, who decades after his ‘service to his country’, gets to document his acts with some of his other ‘teammates’ in a film. The documentary alternates between Anwar and friends showing the filmmakers how and where they carried out their acts, and the fictionalized film they’re acting in (where little by little there seems to be a little more awareness, if not always remorse, over the actions they committed).
And I’m deliberately using the word action instead of crime. I’m reminded of one of my favorite lines from JFK: ‘Treason doth never prosper’ wrote an English poet. What’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.’ If it takes Anwar and his associates some 40 years to realize what they’ve done, a part of that may have something to do with their government never prosecuting them. In fact throughout the film, there’s plenty of evidence of the close relationship between the government and these men who did the dirty work.
I’ll save my domestic, militant rants for another time…