Mengya Hu





Priceof ignorance. The Case of the Act of Killing

Althoughlife and death are an obvious start and end to life, the means thatone gets to die can at times be controversial especially if they arekilled as in the film ‘TheAct of Killing’.The characters in the movie are seen as heroes though they arekillers. These villains known no limits to permissible actions withtheir own hands, and decide what is right according to their limitedworldview. The slaughterers often believe that they do somethingnecessary, in order to protect the certain state of things. It couldhave sounded ridiculous if such proclamation of the massive massacrebeing justified was present only in ‘TheAct of Killing’.But it actually is not – world news, historic books, so calleddocumental films – there is the same thing everywhere: A tendencyof killing a person or a group of people for the sake of certainideology and the united cruelty against common enemy in order toprotect the current world. The scariest thing in this movie is notthe actions of the radical party itself – but the multiple examplesof similar behavior through the world as a part of everyday life ofour peaceful and stable society.

Accordingto such state of the things, it would be suitable to observe ‘TheAct of Killing’not as a historically-documental film, for the information providedin it is not exact (there are no defined amounts of victims, neitherit includes such historically important aspects as coinciding of timeand place of certain attack, etc.) rather as a lesson on the way manthinks. It is more like psychologically-documental film that observesmental state and the way of thinking of people inside radicalorganizations in times of legal powers’ being unstable orinsufficient. The face of a conflict itself can be seen perfectly.There is a description of power as something unsuitable to provideneither legal protection of the country, nor freedom and luxury forcommon citizens. There are people that work outside the system forthey see that system itself is an illusion. Anwar Congo, thegrandfatherly murderer, laughs at the Geneva Convention, as heunderstands it’s temporal and imposed value. He is right, fornearly each conflict can boast with its violation – and lattercovering of the consequences. And, when everything is over, it turnsout that ones who kill millions of people are not monsters – therewere just two groups of ideologically different people rated sdifferent due to their way of thinking.

Apparently,the ‘TheAct of Killing’is shot from the antagonist’s point of view. The scariest thing isthat such history, being well produced and not documental wouldprobably have been popular. People love free-minded strictantagonists that rebel against the system and then fight againstgreater evil using dubious methods much more that protagonists thatcan share someone’s life if that person would later attack again.Modern culture loves such guys and internet is full of adolescentfans of antagonists. Moreover – it is logically indescribable, butthe guy that killed thousand people is felt through the screen asonly the strong actor would be. He is real. And the scenes oftortures are real – they are not from Hollywood where actressscreams similarly whether she is happy, scared, is raped or killed.Torture scenes are scary and ugly, sort of revolting. They don’tbring that joy of massive justified killing that modern films do tothe extent of waiting for more so called “special effects”.Someone should have shown suffering for real as in films it lookedkind of sadomasochistic and urged people to search for more. Afeeling of pain in pop-films is usually a kind of producer’sempathy to suffering character that is being transferred to us. Inthis film the pain and fear, indifference and perverted joy are showndirectly, for a spectator to emphasize himself. Someone should haveshown such dirty emotions for people to stop glorifying artificialsuffering.

Itis symbolic for Anwar to die in his film being decapitated orstrangled. There is unscientific fact that head describes a boundwith the Heaven: everything moral and conscious in human nature. Andthat is exactly what Anwar Congo and people that shared his beliefshave done. As it can be seen from their words, they have thrown awaytheir conscience and humanity, thus symbolically turning into beasts– in order, as they believed, to protect the things that seemedvaluable. They become mostly inhuman creatures that had lost an edgebetween necessary protection against communism and massive humanslaughter that cannot be adequately justified. Thus it is worthrepeating that film is more suitable for depicting certain state ofmind rather than trying to analyze or uncover historic facts. Stillin this aspect ‘TheAct of Killing’is necessary for the modern world to reconsider its values in orderto prevent other massacres that easily can occur at the basis ofideological conflicts. Film would also help to understand apsychology of a person that lives outside the moral borders of thesociety. Moreover, film shows that massacres are not “insaneevildoings made by monsters in human flesh”, but acts of free willthat would later be either justified or forgotten by means of drugs,drinks and so on – by killing own humanity. ‘TheAct of War’brightly describes the vagueness and insecurity of modern world andits moral, helps seeing beyond own worldview – to the things thatno one would prefer accepting.

Accordingto everything before mentioned, I cannot agree with the point ofview, stated in “We love impunity”. It is acceptable that itsauthor preferred describing emotional and moral side of response tothe movie. ‘TheAct of Killing’can be disgusting, amoral, not exact and far from being artistic –moreover this movie has no certain plot and brings any moral. Still,it is not worthy judging the chosen devices without clarifying thegoal of movie creator. No one promised for this picture to be good orartistic – it is just obviously subjective truth. The truth that isrequired. Perhaps modern society is not fed of films that call forempathy and bring moral while being highly unrealistic – it isnourished on them. For me it is fine that film is shown as it is,without cliché-like “indescribable heroism in the struggle withthe enemy of the nation”. War is just a senseless fight caused bythe difference in worldviews.

Understandinghow cruel this world can be people may try to be less ignorant – assuch overpowered impunity is possible only in the case where majorityis unable to protect own lives by neither legal nor illegal means.Depicting self-justification is actually a good idea – in Bosnia,Rwanda, Israel or wherever more. The picture of a murderer thatcounts himself a hero while destroying people that are dangerous forhis world is a thing everyone should realize before starting a fight,for he can be right to the certain extent, but the price for thatrightness would be incommensurate. Indifferently from how ugly andinhuman ‘TheAct of Killing’can be, things described in it are a part of human nature that isworth paying attention. It is easy to say something like “I am notsure I want to share such feelings”. But it is easier to suppresssomething that one knows to be wrong, than to face it and just forgetabout everything, in order to follow self-justificatory mood of thesociety he lives in. I agree here with Nick Fraser, the author of “welove impunity” that the truth is worth being available. But I can’tagree that whitewashing the truth would help, by any means.


Fraser,Nick. &quotWe Love Impunity The Case of The Act of Killing.&quotFilm Quarterly 2013: Pp. 21-24. Print.

TheAct of Killing. Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer. Det Danske Filminstitut(Denmark), Dogwoof Pictures (UK), Drafthouse Films (US), 2012. Film.