Foul Deeds Will Rise
July 10, 2013 2:59 PM   Subscribe

"Is it possible to kill 1 million people and then forget about it? Or if it has been erased from consciousness, is there an unconscious residue, a stain that remains?" Filmmaker Errol Morris writes about Josh Oppenheimer’s documentary film The Act of Killing [trailer]. The film, which was produced by Morris and Werner Herzog, is an examination of the Indonesian mass killings of 1965-66, in which between 500,000 and 1 million people died. It is getting amazing reviews. Previously.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates (26 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think I am going to be able to watch this.
posted by Teakettle at 3:07 PM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

“There is more respect to be won in the opinion of this world by a resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions than by the most stubborn pursuit of extravagant or unpromising objectives … Our country should not be asked, and should not ask of itself, to shoulder the main burden of determining the political realities in any other country, and particularly not in one remote from our shores, from our culture and from the experience of our people. This is not only not our business, but I don’t think we can do it successfully …”

posted by smidgen at 3:11 PM on July 10, 2013

For a minute there I thought this was going to be about the Indochina War, circa 1964-1973, but then I realized US bombing killed more people.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:12 PM on July 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Forgive me the tangent, but I was momentarily severely distracted by the concept that Werner Herzog had a brother I never knew about named Morris Herzog.
posted by dhartung at 3:28 PM on July 10, 2013 [9 favorites]

I suppose if Joshua were related to J. Robert, it would be in his Wikipedia article...
posted by nosila at 3:42 PM on July 10, 2013

I hope Netflix puts it on instant streaming. As it is, it doesn't even look like you can get the DVD yet.
posted by spiderskull at 4:20 PM on July 10, 2013

Considering Netflix still lists availability as "unknown" for the out-on-DVD movies Dirty Pictures, Radio Free Albemuth, and Graphic Sexual Horror, I'd start saving my pennies for when the DVD becomes available for purchase.
posted by localroger at 4:47 PM on July 10, 2013

I knew nothing about Suharto until I listened to the Democracy Now episode that aired after he died in 2008. Here is the Amy Goodman's account of being beaten with rifles that were supplied to the Indonesian military by the United States:
A group of soldiers grabbed my microphone and threw me to the ground, kicking and punching me. At that point, Allan threw himself on top of me, protecting me from further injury. The soldiers then used their rifle butts like baseball bats, beating Allan until they fractured his skull. As we sat on the ground, Allan, covered in blood, a group of soldiers lined up and pointed their M16s at our heads. They had stripped us of all of our equipment. We just kept shouting, “We’re from America!” In the end, they decided not to execute us.
Their beating was preceded by a mass murder of East Timorese civilians. "We're from America" are magic words that can save your life, and I can't think of a stronger illustration of the privileges of American citizenship.

What do we, as a country, do with that privilege? We cast our lot with the people to whom we must speak those magic words in the first place.

The journalist that Amy Goodman was with, Allan Nairn, later questioned Bill Clinton about why he continued to back the Indonesian military regime well into his second term. Here is part of Clinton's response, which I think is especially salient given the question that Josh Oppenheimer asks:
And I think the right thing to do is to do what the leaders of East Timor said. They want to look forward. You want to look backward. I’m going to stick with the leaders. You want to look backward, have at it, but you’ll have to have help from someone else.
That is a former President of the United States explicitly saying that he will not look back at our support of General Suharto.

Clinton's statement was in 2002. A week ago, on the Fourth of July, the Wall Street Journal published an unsigned editorial saying that Egyptians would be lucky to have military rulers in the mold of Chile's General Pinochet.

There's a difference between forgetting, ignoring, and just plain not knowing. I think it's important to understand that different people will fall into different categories for different reasons.
posted by compartment at 5:14 PM on July 10, 2013 [24 favorites]

There is a really good Phillip Adams interview with the director on the Late Night Live site. Fascinating stuff.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 5:26 PM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was mostly familiar with the 30 September Movement through its use as a backdrop in The Year of Living Dangerously You could tell things were going to be terrible at the end, but I admit to being ignorant of exactly how terrible. I'll have to check this out.
posted by immlass at 6:14 PM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's been nothing I've seen from Werner Herzog that I don't admire.

In business meetings, I always secretly attempt to adopt the deliberate, confident pacing of his voice-overs.
posted by newdaddy at 7:19 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I saw an extended cut at the Sydney Film Festival. It was amazing. Anwar Congo is simultaneously the film's subject, storyteller, filmmaker and audience. I've never seen anything quite like it. It might sound like pretty grim hard-hitting stuff, but Oppenheimer also finds melancholic absurdity in Anwar's situation.
posted by quosimosaur at 8:21 PM on July 10, 2013

I can't recommend this enough. Go see it!
posted by quosimosaur at 8:23 PM on July 10, 2013

I watched it yesterday, and it is truly astonishing.

It is hard to take at times, but not in the way that you might imagine, because it's not working on shock tactics alone, but also subtly provoking a discomforting degree of empathy for the killers. Don't get me wrong, this is no apologist piece - the film never misses an opportunity to let them incriminate themselves (well "incriminate" isn't the right word for acts that weren't considered criminal). But we see these mass murderers as likeable, funny, even moral (in whatever way they have convinced themselves makes sense to them). What is the point of allowing for this empathy alongside simple revulsion and condemnation? Well, it gets you a little way towards understanding how they are perceived by many in the country, as at worst a necessary evil and at best as heroic. It feels like a surreal, dream like situation, especially in the juxtaposition of this otherworldly inhumanity with the norms of the contemporary capitalist culture that now exist in the country, and the film plays off of this extremely well, especially in the extraordary film-in-a-film sections.

It seems wrong to say that a film about such barbaric acts is enjoyable or entertaining or likeable, but it is very watchable and very powerful. Highly recommended.
posted by iivix at 5:01 AM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

There has been some criticism of Oppenheimer's decision to focus on the perpetrators' perspectives, however he does intent to follow up The Act of Killing with another film devoted to victims stories. IIRC, footage for the follow up has already been shot, but is still being reviewed for editing.
posted by quosimosaur at 6:29 AM on July 11, 2013

I saw a trailer for this before something I watched and it was extremely difficult to sit through, but incredibly compelling. Don't think I'd have the strength to get through the film, honestly.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:50 AM on July 11, 2013

For a minute there I thought this was going to be about the Indochina War, circa 1964-1973, but then I realized US bombing killed more people.

the essay by errol morris is entirely about indochina:
“The annihilation of the largest non-bloc Communist party in the world vividly undermined the rationale for the escalating U.S. war in Vietnam, as former defense secretary Robert McNamara has noted, eliminating at a stroke the chief threat to the Westward orientation of the most strategically and economically important country in Southeast Asia and facilitating its firm reintegration into the regional and world economy after a decade-long pursuit of autonomous development.”

The phrase “undermined the rationale for the escalating U.S. war in Vietnam” caught my attention, as did the reference to McNamara. How was McNamara involved?

I won an Oscar for my film The Fog of War, a profile of McNamara, who was secretary of defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Nov. 22, 1963 through Jan. 21, 1969. The Johnson presidency included the period of the Indonesian killings and the escalation of the Vietnam War. Simpson referred in a footnote to McNamara’s memoir, In Retrospect, a book I thought I knew well. McNamara writes:

“George F. Kennan, whose containment strategy was a significant factor in our commitment to South Vietnam’s defense, argued at a Senate hearing on February 10, 1966, that the Chinese had ‘suffered an enormous reverse in Indonesia ... one of great significance, and one that does rather confine any realistic hopes they may have for the expansion of their authority.’ This event had greatly reduced America’s stakes in Vietnam. He asserted that fewer dominoes now existed, and they seemed much less likely to fall.”

He concludes, “Kennan’s point failed to catch our attention and thus influence our actions.”

posted by at 10:41 AM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Is it possible to kill 1 million people and then forget about it?
Easy enough to find out -- ask Kissinger. Ask Cheney.
I'd suggest that you ask Bush but Bush is too fucking dumb to know what he's forgotten about and what he hasn't, whereas I'm positive that both Kissinger and Cheney remember their killings with joy in their hearts, a song on their lips.

And if you can't stream The Act Of Killing yet you're really hankering to see mass murderers in action, here's a neato documentary about killing millions of people in those same years, though sadly it's not as much fun, it doesn't have any song and dance numbers in it, so it might not get all those good reviews: Vietnam: American Holocaust
posted by dancestoblue at 5:37 AM on July 14, 2013

I've probably spent dozens of hours reading about Indonesian history entirely because I caught a trailer for this many months ago and it was, really, more affecting than most entire films or books that strive for a similar revelatory impact.

The only thing stopping me from driving 250 miles to the nearest screening of this is my discomfort with the idea of my own eagerness to see something like it.
posted by geneva uswazi at 7:44 AM on July 15, 2013

Apparently Drafthouse films is distributing this. I'm on one of the Alamo mailing lists and Tim League emailed the list to ask for grassroots publicity help for it so it gets wider distribution.
posted by immlass at 5:00 PM on July 18, 2013

It must be playing someplace in NYC, but I am not coming up with any hits. Would there be sufficient interest in a meetup to watch this, assuming we can find a theater?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:58 PM on July 18, 2013

A list of screenings was linked in the email I got from the Drafthouse films folks. Hope this helps.
posted by immlass at 9:42 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Visualizing the Bechdel test.   |   How is this less realistic than a guy with... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments