Joshua Oppenheimer’s acclaimed film, The Act of Killing, and its sequel The Look of Silence are about getting away with murder.
In 1965, the Indonesian military seized power and launched a nationwide massacre of the left. Much of the dirty work was delegated to death squads and Muslim militias, ordinary citizens as well as shock troops. The victims were party activists, intellectuals, artists, unionised workers and illiterate sharecroppers. In a few months, roughly one million people died, eight times the combined death toll of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But unlike the victims of aerial bombing, Indonesians fell to individual acts of murder, messy and sadistic. These films consider the performance and the legacy, the small print of organised slaughter.
Oppenheimer ignores the wider context of post-colonial, Cold War politics to concentrate on local operations in North Sumatra – a sideshow to the pogroms of Java and Bali but similar in their meticulous brutality.… Read the rest