For almost half a century, Indonesia has avoided public discussions of the mass murders committed in 1965 and 1966. Now, just as the nation’s National Commission on Human Rights has declared the killings a “gross violation of human rights”, a new documentary film offers a startling way to confront the crimes.
Instead of investigating the facts behind the deaths, the film examines the delusions that have obscured them.
In Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act of Killing, self-proclaimed murderers are given the opportunity to reenact their crimes. This enables audiences to witness the deaths, not as they happened, but as they are remembered by the killers.
Oppenheimer calls his film a “documentary of the imagination”. It is an appropriate label for a movie that reveals the links between the human capacity for self-delusion and cinema’s ability ...