Chilling documentary made by Joshua Oppenheimer which explores the details of the anti-communist cull in Indonesia. Joshua Oppenheimer, determined to dive to the bottom of this uncharted territory, came to Indonesia in 2001, contacted human rights agencies in Jakarta, and started working with the community of survivors.
Given this unique historical situation, the conventional route of filming and interviewing the victims of genocide could make way for a more adventurous documentary strategy: talking to the perpetrators themselves. Oppenheimer met over forty of them, who now live in Indonesia as distinguished and wealthy ex-gangsters.
Astonished to find out how open and willing these boastful murderers were to recount their acts of brutality, he brought to some of them an unusual suggestion. He proposed to help them reenact their horrible acts in painstaking detail in front of the camera. Thus their stories would be told not straightforwardly in verbal confession, but dramatized grandiosely in a film-within-a-film structure according to their method of choice. The result is one of the most horrific and morally twisted acts of performance in all of cinema, in which perpetrators willingly and happily restage incidents of appalling violence.
What wasn’t touched on in the documentary was how and why. Why were Communists persecuted in such a way and how were the perpetrators able to get away with such atrocities.
“All murderers are punished, unless they kill in large numbers, and to the sound of trumpets”
In 1968 General Suharto (Indonesian President) took power riding an anti-communist purge, supported by the US administration. The CIA gave Suharto a list of leftists and tracked their assassinations; hundreds of thousands of Indonesians were killed as Suharto solidified his power. At the same time as this super mass murder and kidnap plot, the country’s industries were opened to multinationals, allowing 100% foreign ownership and profit in many areas. The U.S. government played a significant role in one of the worst massacres of the century. The purge of the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) was part of a U.S. drive to ensure that Communists did not come to power in the largest country in SouthEast Asia, where the United States was already fighting an undeclared war in Vietnam. A war which needed to be sustained for profit.
More detail can be found in Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine
The main focus is on one of the killers Anwar Congo who goes through a personal transformation that is shockingly sweet. Anwar loved hollywood movies, and he speaks openly about how the movies gave him inspiration and ideas for dealing with Communists in his country. As well as providing killing techniques, the attachment to hollywood, the fashion, style and music seemed to have allowed the killers to detach themselves from what they are doing. Escapism in a blood soaked form.
Anwar proudly demonstrates his efficient killing technique, which was to use a metal wire around the neck, at the back of a parade of shops. This was one of the locations where he carried out many of his heinous acts. Even though this was a horrific situation, he was at ease with himself, proud in fact. He was so comfortable he did a little dance before he revealed his killing method. He had some moves though, and it reminded me of the little jive that Mr Blonde did in Resevoir dogs before he sliced off the police officers ear. Eerie.
“It was as if we were killing… happily,” says the elderly Anwar Congo, recalling the heyday of legitimised slaughter, demonstrating the easiest way to strangle a man with a length of wire and a piece of wood.
Anwars transition comes when he plays the victim in a scene of the movie he’s making. He is tied to a chair, in dark and dusty room, surrounded by men who are eager to torture and kill him. One of the other killers threatens him with a knife, placing it on his neck and cheek, and you can see the terror begin to fill Anwars face. He freezes. The rolling of the film stops. The rooms silent. He’s silent.
He can’t speak and his head is down as if in a split second, the reality of his past behaviours have all come rushing back at once with the intensity of a sledgehammer to the face. BANG!
When watching the scene back, his ignorance and lack of empathy becomes extremely apparent when he asks the director;
‘Is this how I made people feel?’
The man was responsible for the death of 1000 individuals. Could he really by so void of emotion? Can someone really be so oblivious to how murdering hundreds of people isn’t a nice thing to go through? Eyes glued, you can’t really believe what your seeing.
The film ends with Anwar visiting the same place he demonstrated his wire killing technique. As he enters cold concreted area at the back of a parade of shops he begins to describe some of the events.
He stumbles as if he’s got light headed, all of a sudden he grabs a seat, and then there’s this sickening sound of Anwar retching horrendously as if his tortured soul was trying release the demon trapped inside his body. Its an awful, growling, vomitous howl, and is a polar opposite reaction to the little boogie he did at the beginning of the documentary.
I don’t know if Oppenheimer planned any of this but the the documentary flowed naturally to reach this heavy climax. There are other gangsters telling tales of unspeakable crimes, things I don’t even want to mention as the descriptive narrative and pleasure with which they speak is horrendous.
‘So far, the director, Joshua Oppenheimer, has not succeeded in accomplishing what he considered a greater goal — jump-starting a debate in Indonesia that will compel the government to finally open a formal inquiry into one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century. ‘
Take it how you want but its easy to put two and two together as to why the American government won’t take investigating theses atrocities any further. I’m not going to do the maths here but its definitely food for thought and an unbelievable documentary.