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The Act of Killing

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The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
Christine Cynn (co-director)
Anonymous (co-director)
Produced by Signe Byrge Sørensen
Werner Herzog
Errol Morris
Andre Singer
Joram Ten Brink
Music by Elin Øyen Vister
Cinematography Anonymous
Carlos Arango de Montis
Lars Skree
Edited by Niels Pagh Andersen
Janus Billeskov Jansen
Mariko Montpetit
Charlotte Munch Bengtsen
Ariadna Fatjó-Vilas Mestre
Final Cut for Real
Distributed by Det Danske Filminstitut (Denmark)
Dogwoof Pictures (UK)
Drafthouse Films (US)
Release dates
  • 31 August 2012 (2012-08-31) (Telluride)
  • 1 November 2012 (2012-11-01) (Indonesia)
  • 8 November 2012 (2012-11-08) (Denmark)
  • 28 June 2013 (2013-06-28) (UK)
  • 6 September 2013 (2013-09-06) (Norway)
Running time 122 minutes (US theatrical release)[1]
159 minutes (Director's cut)
Country Norway
United Kingdom
Language Indonesian
Budget $1 million[2]
Box office $444,575[3]

The Act of Killing (Indonesian: Jagal, meaning "Butcher") is a 2012 documentary film about the Indonesian killings of 1965–66 directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, and co-directed by Christine Cynn and an anonymous Indonesian.[4] It is a Danish-British-Norwegian co-production, presented by Final Cut for Real in Denmark and produced by Signe Byrge Sørensen. The executive producers were Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Joram ten Brink, and Andre Singer. It is a Docwest project of the University of Westminster. It won the 2013 European Film Award for Best Documentary, the Asia Pacific Screen Award, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 86th Academy Awards.[5]

The Act of Killing won best documentary at the 2014 BAFTA awards. In accepting the award, Oppenheimer asserted that the United States and the United Kingdom have "collective responsibility" for "participating in and ignoring" the crimes,[6] which was omitted from the video BAFTA posted online.[7] After a screening for US Congress members, Oppenheimer demanded that the US acknowledge its role in the killings.[8]

The Indonesian government has responded negatively to the movie. Its presidential spokesman on foreign affairs, Teuku Faizasyah, claimed that the movie is misleading with respect to its portrayal of Indonesia. [9]

A sequel to the film, The Look of Silence, is scheduled to be released in 2015.[10]


The film focuses on the Indonesian killings of 1965–66, an ostensibly anti-communist purge in which more than 500,000 people were killed. When Suharto overthrew Sukarno, the President of Indonesia, following the failed coup of the 30 September Movement in 1965, the gangsters Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry in Medan (North Sumatra) were promoted from selling black market movie theatre tickets to leading the most powerful death squad in North Sumatra. They also extorted money from ethnic Chinese before killing them. Anwar is said to have personally killed 1,000 people by methods such as strangulation with wire.

Today, Anwar is revered as a founding father of the right-wing paramilitary organization genocide.

Invited by Oppenheimer, Anwar and his friends recount and re-enact their experiences and some of their killings for the cameras, and make dramatic scenes depicting their memories and feelings about the killings. The scenes are produced in the style of their favorite film genres: gangster, western, and musical. Various aspects of Anwar and his friends' filmmaking process are shown, but as they begin to dramatize Anwar's own nightmares, the fiction scenes begin to take over the film's form, leading the film to become increasingly surreal. Oppenheimer has called the result "a documentary of the imagination".

Some of Anwar's friends state that the killings were wrong, while others worry about the consequences of the story on their public image.

After Anwar plays a victim, he cannot continue. He says that he feels what his victims have felt. Oppenheimer, from behind the camera, states that it was worse for the victims because they knew they were going to be killed, whereas Anwar was only acting. Anwar then expresses doubts over whether or not he has sinned, tearfully saying he does not want the memories of what he did to come back to him. He revisits the rooftop where he claims many of his killings took place, and gags repeatedly. The dancers from the film's theatrical poster are seen before the credits begin to roll.


In 2001, while conducting interviews for their 2003 film The Globalisation Tapes, Oppenheimer and Cynn began delving into the Indonesian killings of 1965–66. After moving up the ranks of those involved with the killings, Oppenheimer's interviews led him to meet Anwar Congo in 2005.[11] The film was shot mostly in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, between 2005 and 2011. After seeing an early preview of The Act of Killing, filmmakers Werner Herzog and Errol Morris signed on as executive producers.[12]

The name "Anonymous" appears 49 times under 27 different crew positions in the credits. These crew members still fear revenge from the death-squad killers.


Critical response

The Act of Killing received worldwide critical acclaim. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 95% approval rating with an average rating of 8.7/10 based on 132 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "Raw, terrifying, and painfully difficult to watch, The Act of Killing offers a haunting testament to the edifying, confrontational power of documentary cinema."[13] On Metacritic, the film has an average score of 89 out of 100, based on 30 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim."[14]

Nick Schager of The Village Voice called it a "masterpiece."[15] Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges called the film "an important exploration of the complex psychology of mass murderers" and wrote that "it is not the demonized, easily digestible caricature of a mass murderer that most disturbs us. It is the human being."[16]

In some quarters Oppenheimer has been accused of treating his subjects in bad faith.[17] As far as their goal at the beginning was to glorify mass murder, Oppenheimer responds that could never have been his goal, therefore that side of them may have been betrayed.[18][19][20][21] In an interview with The Village Voice, Oppenheimer said, "When I was entrusted by this community of survivors to film these justifications, to film these boastings, I was trying to expose and interrogate the nature of impunity. Boasting about killing was the right material to do that with because it is a symptom of impunity."[22]

Australian National University Professor of Asian history and politics Robert Cribb stated that the film lacks historical context.[23] In reply, Oppenheimer said that "the film is essentially not about what happened in 1965, but rather about a regime in which genocide has, paradoxically, been effaced [yet] celebrated – in order to keep the survivors terrified, the public brainwashed, and the perpetrators able to live with themselves...It never pretends to be an exhaustive account of the events of 1965. It seeks to understand the impact of the killing and terror today, on individuals and institutions."[24]

Bradley Simpson, historian at the University of Connecticut and director of the Indonesia/East Timor Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, states the "brilliant Oscar-nominated film" has prompted vigorous debate among Indonesians about the crimes and the need to hold responsible parties accountable, and suggests that it could have a similar effect in the United States, whose own role in the killings "has never officially been acknowledged, much less accounted for, though some of the relevant documents have been made available to the public."[25]

An Indonesian academic, Soe Tjen Marching, analyzed the film in relation to Hannah Arendt's theory of the banality of evil.[26]

The primary subjects in the film, Anwar Congo and Herman Koto, have seen the film and neither feels deceived, according to Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer says that upon watching the film Anwar Congo "started to cry...Tearfully, he told me: 'This is the film I expected. It's an honest film, a true film.' He said he was profoundly moved and will always remain loyal to it."[27] A subsequent interview on Al Jazeera's program "101 East" revealed that Anwar had misgivings about the film and the negative reaction to it in Indonesia, which was causing problems for him. He confided these concerns directly to Oppenheimer in an apparent Skype conversation displayed within the program.[28]

Top ten lists

The Act of Killing has been named as one of the best films of 2013 by various critics:[29]

Awards and nominations


  1. ^ (15)"THE ACT OF KILLING".  
  2. ^ (2012) – Box office / business"The Act of Killing".  
  3. ^ (2013)"Act of Killing".  
  4. ^ Shoard, Catherine (14 September 2012). "The Act of Killing – review". The Guardian. 
  5. ^ "Oscars: Main nominations 2014". BBC News. Retrieved 16 January 2014. 
  6. ^ Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (16 February 2014). Baftas 2014: The Act of Killing wins best documentary. The Guardian. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
  7. ^ Macaulay, Scott (17 February 2014). The Act of Killing Wins Documentary BAFTA; Director Oppenheimer’s Speech Edited Online. Filmmaker. Retrieved 17 February 2014.
  8. ^ Sabarini, Prodita (16 February 2014). Director calls for US to acknowledge its role in 1965 killings. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 17 February 2014.
  9. ^ Josua Gantan (23 January 2014). Indonesia Reacts to ‘Act of Killing’ Academy Nomination, The Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 27 May 2014
  10. ^ Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (27 August 2014). Act Of Killing sequel The Look Of Silence will hit theaters in 2015. A.V. Club. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  11. ^ Whittaker, Richard (9 August 2013). "The Act of Killing"Making a 'Killing': Joshua Oppenheimer on the half-decade he spent filming for .  
  12. ^ Fortune, Drew (30 July 2013). "The Act of Killing"Joshua Oppenheimer and Werner Herzog on .  
  13. ^ "The Act Of Killing (2013)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  14. ^ "The Act of Killing". Metacritic. Retrieved 16 February 2014. 
  15. ^ Schager, Nick (17 July 2003). Is a Masterpiece of Murder and the Movies"The Act of Killing". The Village Voice.
  16. ^ Chris Hedges (23 September 2013). The Act of Killing. Truthdig. Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  17. ^ The Act of Killing DFI Film. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  18. ^ Actors may sue director of lauded film on PKI killings | The Jakarta Post
  19. ^ FEATURE: An overnight celebrity from 'The Act of Killing' – Yahoo News Malaysia
  20. ^ 1965 victims protest against ‘The Act Of Killing’ | The Jakarta Post
  21. ^ DFI-FILM | The Act of Killing
  22. ^ Joshua Oppenheimer on The Act of Killing – Page 1 – Movies – New York – Village Voice
  23. ^ Cribb, Robert (April–June 2013). "Review: An act of manipulation?". Inside Indonesia.
  24. ^ Melvin, Jess (April–June 2013). "An interview with Joshua Oppenheimer". Inside Indonesia.
  25. ^ Brad Simpson (28 February 2014). It’s Our Act of Killing, Too. The Nation. Retrieved 9 May 2014.
  26. ^ Marching, Soe Tjen (5 July 2013). "Coming to Grips With the Banality of Mass Murder in Indonesia's Past". Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  27. ^ APPLEBAUM, STEPHEN (13 April 2013) Indonesia's killing fields revisited in Joshua Oppenheimer's documentary. The Australian
  28. ^ "Indonesian Killing Fields" on YouTube. Al Jazeera English. 101 East. 20 December 2012
  29. ^ Dietz, Jason (8 December 2013). "2013 Film Critic Top Ten Lists".  
  30. ^ Barraclough, Leo (29 November 2013). "Sight & Sound Names 'Act of Killing' Top Film of 2013".  
  31. ^ "The 10 best films of 2013, No 1 – The Act of Killing". 20 Dec 2013. 
  32. ^ a b "The /Filmcast's Top 10 Films of 2013 - /Film". 2013-12-29. Retrieved 2014-08-18. 

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