TheActOfKilling_PosterJoshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar nominated The Act of Killing has got to be one of the most unsettling documentaries ever made. In it, men who murdered thousands (some estimates are 1 million) of Communists back in the mid-1960s in Indonesia are asked to reenact their crimes, and rather than show any remorse for the horror they inflicted, they act as if they were doing something great and fun, and they take pride in showing the filmmakers how and where they murdered their countrymen. It is surreal and bizarre and unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

The “star” of the film is Anwar Congo who was the one of the government-sponsored death squad leaders. He and his friends proudly call themselves gangsters, explaining that it means “free man.” They and their community members are living in an alternative universe where bad things may have happened, but there is always cinema to take your mind off it and to wrap the evil in a veneer of the unreal. They sing and dance and totally get into being stars with a film crew following them around as they show you how best to garrotte a person to death with the least mess. act2indexThere is something so disconcerting about watching these guys reveling in their depravity. That Errol Morris and Werner Herzog signed on as Executive Producers has no doubt brought the film the kind of respectability and audience curiosity that it might not have had otherwise. It is hard not to watch, but at the end you are left thinking about how you might feel had this been made with Nazis or Khmer Rouge (or any other group of people who systematically murdered innocent civilians) joking around about how they did it.

By the end, there is a glimmer of recognition from Congo that what he and his pals did might have some moral implications, but only just a bit. It is not for the faint of heart, but it is a thought provoking flick.

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