I don’t think a documentary can get any more disturbing than this
Immediately after watching The Act of Killing I tweeted the following:
Watched The Act of Killing. Feeling sick. Want to call a superior extra-terrestrial civilisation to extinguish Earth. Mankind was a mistake.”
I guess this doesn’t entirely make sense. The whole is about genocide, the mass-killing of a million people in Indonesia, which I until now never had heard of. Is it really appropriate to call for the extinction of mankind? Shouldn’t you rather lit a candle and send a prayer for the victims?
But if you’ve seen it, you know where I’m coming from and why I’m tempted to give up on the future of humanity. I can’t recall any documentary that is anywhere near as disturbing, as horrifying, as nauseating as this one was. The villains are unspeakably evil and make the bad guys in ordinary action movies seem like decent people in comparison.
However this death squad isn’t the product of someone’s darkest imagination. They’re not actors who will put the role aside once the camera is shut off. They exist, for real. They’re fathers, grandfathers and they don’t seem to have any regrets whatsoever as they gloat about the different methods they used to kill and torture thousands and thousands of innocent people. They’re equally proud and amused about their deeds in the past, to the extent that they insist on the children in their family to watch them as they’re re-enacting the past recording a film about it.
They’ve never been brought to court to answer for their crimes. In fact it’s quite the opposite: they’re celebrated as heroes in their country.
My fingers are stuttering as I’m trying to compose myself to write anything coherent about this film and all the uncomfortable questions it raises.
Is this what it means to be a human being? I’m no scientist, but I imagine that I have some genes or parts of genes on an atomic level in common with those murderers. We share something, like atoms of the water that Cleopatra drank mixes into the water I’m having now. The recycling of building material in the world as we know it is an ongoing process. But the idea that we’re part of the same species equally appals and frightens me. Given the circumstances were the same, could I do what they did and then laugh about it 40 years later? Is there a monster luring inside every human being? The dark passenger of Dexter, the creature that slipped into people giving them creepy eyes in Twin Peaks – does it exist for real?
On the other hand – I argue with myself – this documentary doesn’t give the entire picture of what we are. There is kindness and empathy and love in the world. As a species we’re capable of both. Darkness and light exists side by side somewhere in the human soul, if there is such a thing, and we have a choice to use either.
What Joshua Oppenheimer does with this film is to bring us to the abyss, letting us having a good look at it. It’s only when we acknowledge its existence that we can choose a different path and take measures so that no one walks into it for any reason, be it drugs, individual insanity or a mass psychosis.
If you only can see one documentary this year, let it be The Act of Killing. Just don’t show it to any alien life form you may encounter in the future. It might cause a panic reaction.
The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer 2012) My rating: 5/5