Thursday, January 30, 2014

"The Act of Killing": the ultimate meta-movie

The Act of Killing” by Joshua Oppenheimer may be the ultimate meta-movie.  The filmmaker enlists men who ran an military dictatorship in Indonesia after its government fell in 1965, to reenact their killing of “communists” with any Hollywood genre they wanted, complete with song and dance.  They get to use all the props and gruesome war dress-up (including drag at one point) they want.
The film opens with young beauties walking out of a burned fuselage by a lake to dance, and later there is a heavenly scene underneath a waterfall where a “commie” victim thanks his killer for balancing his karma and sending him to his reward.

The ring leader seems to be Anwar Congo, but at the end, in a decrepit rooftop of a shop, he spits and retches (never quite vomiting) at the thought of what he has done with his life.

In the middle of the film, Oppenheimer does ask about his not being “caught”, and about how he would feel about being tried before the Hague for war crimes.  At the time, it bounces off him.  He has not guilt.  He was just killing the enemy, commie pinko bureaucracy. Sure, he had used gangster methods from old movies.  Hadn’t Americans done the same think to Indians when conquering the pioneer frontier?  Gangsterism was freedom.  The film uses John Barry’s song “Born Free” from that 1969 movie (about freeing a lioness) as a parody of their idea of freedom.
It’s interesting that so many of the people in the credits are listed as “anonymous.”
It’s interesting that the anti-commie coup happened in 1965, the year that LBJ did his massive escalation of Vietnam, leading to huge draft callus and my own conscription in February 1968.

The film (which is long, at 122 minutes) mocks itself by putting shooting script screenplay directions on the screen for the viewer to see. 
The film, for me, brings up another issue, self-incrimination or self-defamation, and the purpose it serves, and the “implicit content” problem.  Why do people want to reenact bad things they have done, or fantasies of what they really want even if they know that carrying them out would be evil or could get them punished?  I’ve talked about this issue with my own script, “The Sub”.  The issue comes up with Todd Verow’s 1995 film “Frisk” (Strand Releasing) where the novelist Dennis Cooper seems to implicate himself.


The official site (Drafthouse Films) is here. Errol Morris and Werner Hertzog are listed as among the executive producers. 
I watched this on Netflix, but it had played at the West End Cinema in Washington DC. It has been nominated for best documentary. 

Wikipedia attribution link for CIA map of Indonesia. 

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