The Act of Killing (2013)

All throughout history, many different parts of the world have experienced unspeakable tragedies. When we think about said tragedies, the Holocaust is probably the first event that comes to mind. We learn about it in school and it’s something that most people will hear about from their parents or relatives. In fact, we learn about a lot of terrible events including genocide and mass killings. One particular event, however, has yet to have been taught to me and is one that isn’t as prevalent in school’s all across the nation. That event, is the killing of more than 500,000 Indonesian citizens in the year 1965.

The Act of Killing focuses on a man by the name of Anwar Congo. Before the mass killings of 65′, Congo worked as a black market movie ticket seller. He viewed many American films in his local theater and these films were the inspiration for his many methods of killing “communists”. He repeatedly brings up the word “gangster” throughout the film. He says it means “free man”. In Indonesia, the free men make up the Pemuda Pancasila party. This party practically runs Indonesia and is powerful enough to stop any kind of resistance. At the head of the party is Congo, who is very open about the estimated 1,000 “communists” he killed himself.

Director Joshua Oppenheimer, fascinated by Congo’s fondness of movies, challenged Congo and his right-hand-man, Herman Koto, to recreate the killings of these “communists” through different genres of film. Congo accepts and films scenes derived from gangster, western and musical genres. The result? A little more than two hours of some of the most gut-wrenching and soul crushing scenes that you’ll ever see. As tough as they are to watch, however, they do provide great insight into this little known (at least where I’m from) mass killing and why it happened.

As the film plays out, we learn that Congo and his friends have no remorse for their actions. To them, they cleansed their country and couldn’t be more proud of it. They joke about the ways they would kill people or how some people would beg and plead for their lives. They recount stories of killing relatives or close friends because ‘they were communists”. They savagely and grotesquely discuss how they treated women, old and young, during that time. Their dialog is appalling and will stick with you months to come. These men were never tried for crimes against humanity and now they live as rulers in Indonesia. Some of these scenes, as hard as they are to watch, allow us a look into the core of truly evil human beings that got away with the murder of 500,000 citizens.

As scenes are being re-enacted, some of Congo’s friends begin to view things a bit differently. They discuss how hard it was to kill certain people and the fact that the people they killed might not have been the communists. They look in horror as they see a staging of the raping and pillaging of a village. The look of disdain floods their faces as they hear the piercing cries of women and children, struggling to survive as fires and gunshots consume them. Keep in mind, these events were merely staged. No one was injured and everyone was acting.

Near the end of the film, Anwar Congo sits eagerly as he waits for his chance to view the scenes. He even goes as far as inviting his grandchildren in to watch. As the scenes play out and Congo watches himself being killed in various ways, the gleaming smile on his face turns to one of dismay. He begins to cry as he exclaims that he now knows how those hundreds of thousands of people felt. How they felt as they were staring death in its face. Except, he doesn’t know the feeling. He was acting. Those hundreds of thousands of people, they were killed. Some of them, killed by Congo himself…

While it may seem like I’m spoiling this movie, I promise you that I’m not. The synopsis clearly states how the film plays out, but it leaves out something very important. What cannot be read or told, are the range of emotions and the sense of disorientation that you will feel as you watch this film. You can read this review and think that it sounds awful. When you see the film, you experience something unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. The execution of the scenes and the untold stories that lay within the recesses of these awful men’s minds, meld together to from an unforgettable experience. It’s an experience that isn’t pleasant, but is one that needs to be had, just as this story is one that needs to be told.

My words can’t even come close to expressing how important this film is, but if I still have not garnered your attention and you’re still unsure about this film, please continue reading for my Top Ten Thoughts on The Act of Killing.


What I Enjoyed

What I Also Enjoyed

The idea behind this documentary is unique and ingenious.

Without this film, myself and many others would continue to live life without knowing what Congo and his gangsters did.

This film brings a situation that far too many are uneducated on, into light.

Learning the inspirations behind the killing methods that Congo used was very intriguing.

The story itself is one of the most awful and tragic things that I’ve ever heard.

The remakes of the killings are utterly terrifying. If something that’s fake can be that awful, I can’t even imagine what it was really like.

The different film genres that Congo chooses to use work well with telling the gruesome story.

You gain a lot of insight into who these men are as they reminisce over their personal killings and killings they overlooked.

The reality that these men feel little to no remorse is unfathomable and  their laughter only makes it worse.

There are many gut-wrenching scenes in this film, but these scenes also tell the story as it is. Certain scenes will stick with you.

This film provides a great look into an unfortunate truth in the world.  “The winners make the rules”.

The cinematography in this film is really great. There are some beautiful sweeping shots in this film that distract you for a moment.

The fact that the gangsters are still present and are still enforcing is unsettling.

You get to view the production of these different scenes through the eyes of a bystander. The set ups are always fun to watch.

The treatment of women and children in the film is disgusting, but it makes me appreciate how things have changed in the U.S.

It’s rather interesting to hear about Congo’s love for movies and how they affected him. While they affected him negatively, he speaks as a large fan and he often gushes over them.

The fact that Congo and his accomplices agreed to this documentary is astounding.

The realization of his actions that Congo experiences provides for one of the most realistic and unsettling moments in all of film.

The approach to this film is one that I applaud and feel like really helped tell this inconceivable story.

While Congo may have realized the error of his ways, what he did is still unforgivable. It’s simply amazing that this film brought him that revelation.


In many ways, The Act of Killing is one of the best film’s that I’ve seen all year. It tells the story of the Indonesian Massacre through the eyes of the men responsible for it. The truth and realism behind these men’s words and actions are unforgettable and they make for one of the most unusual tellings of history that I’ve ever seen. Had I not seen this film, I’m not sure that I’d ever hear about this massacre. Many still haven’t heard about it. Regardless of if you have or haven’t, you need to see this film. It’s important that this story is told.

The Act of Killing Trailer

5 STARS!!!

5 / 5 stars     

3 thoughts on “The Act of Killing (2013)

  1. Pingback: Best Films of 2013 | Nick Tiffany's Movie Reviews

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