I should start by saying that I am not a prude. The world should know this by now. I mean, I will watch nearly any and everything, and the squeamish doesn’t make me think any less of you. I particularly enjoy a film that pushes me; that actually causes me to question things or makes me uncomfortable because of its stance or presentation.
But honestly, ‘The Act of Killing’ kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
I know that this has been lauded and I know that this has received many (and I mean MANY) awards, but as a complete film I found myself wondering why it was being lauded and praised so deeply. I understand the point the filmmakers were getting at, and yet while I feel that to a degree (and I guess that degree really depends on who it is that is watching the movie) the film made that point, the point is lost (at least for me) in the filmmakers directorial and visual decisions. The subject is harrowing, the presentation is creative and the final frames are intoxicating and yet together these all create a film I found somewhat distasteful.
‘The Act of Killing’, Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar nominated Documentary, dares to allow Indonesian death squad leaders to tell their stories cinematically. They were allowed to select the film genres they desired and essentially act out their disgusting atrocities for our viewing pleasure. Yes, there is a point to this madness (for as they watch back on playback you can see the realities of their horrors sink in) but for me the payoff is too little to justify the means here. I know that many will not agree with me, and I’ve already been told that I was wrong for thinking this, but to me ‘The Act of Killing’ was too exploitive for its own good. In a way, the first half of the film comes across almost glorifying the acts, while the second half serves as a means to poke fun at these morally corrupt individuals. Watching these viscous men dress up like women in colorful costumes, parading around covered in fake blood or singing show tunes feels oddly theatrical and uncomfortably humorous when you consider the context of the film itself. Giving these men free reign as they reminisce on when they were kings, killing on a whim and destroying lives, all the while their eyes filled with glee; my head was throbbing in anger and confusion.
I feel like ‘The Act of Killing’ has a very powerful message to convey, but I don’t agree with Oppenheimer’s choices here. Yes, seeing Anwar dry heave at the very thought of what he had done is a very raw and mesmerizing moment, and it at least confirms that this ‘exercise’ was beneficial to an extent (even if the moment is short lived and Anwar then proceeds to joyfully show his grandchildren the ‘scene’ where he dies), but I question whether this was an exercise the rest of us needed to see.
I give this a C+. I don't think this will win the Oscar, not after watching it. Yes, it has wracked up the most wins of any of the nominees, but this is a tough watch, and while critics have lauded it, I have a feeling that my personal opinion is not mine alone.