The film has had an extraordinary reception in Indonesia and is increasing scrutiny on the regime there. You almost get the sense that the point was a kind of global reckoning rather than just to transform the Indonesian political order.

Every article of clothing touching our bodies is haunted by the suffering of the people who make it for us, all of them working in places where there's been mass violence where perpetrators have won. They have used their victory to create regimes of fear where the people who make everything we buy are so suppressed and their labor so cheap that the human cost of everything we buy is not incorporated in the price that we pay for it.

The Act of Killing is not about a distant killing on the other side of the world. It's about the underbelly of our reality, "brutal underbelly of global capitalism." If the film has any key message that's universal, it's just this: Everybody already knows everything. We know it. Just as Anwar knows what he did was wrong and is trying to run away from it the whole time, and just as Indonesians know this happened. They know their society is a kind of pseudo-democracy built on fear and mass graves.


Location Info


Landmark Sunshine Cinema

143 E. Houston St.
New York, NY 10002

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Lower East Side


The Act of Killing
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
Drafthouse Films
Opens July 19, Landmark Sunshine

Subscribe to the Voice Film Club podcast

See also: The Act of Killing Is a Masterpiece of Murder and the Movies

We know that the lives we live depend on the suffering of others. We depend on Anwar and his friends or men just like them all over the world for our daily living. We all are, in a way, guests at Anwar and his friends' cannibalistic feast. We may not be as close to the slaughter, but we're at the table. And I think this harms us.

We are withdrawing from reality, withdrawing from each other, withdrawing into obsessive egoism, consumerism, and also escapist fantasies that we are like the good guys in the stories that we consume.

What links the political and social fabric of Indonesia to the one here in the States?

[One of the death squad leaders] took me down with a fellow squad leader to the riverbank where he'd helped kill 10,500 people at one spot by just cutting off their heads. After showing me how he went about it with his friend, he pulls out a little camera and asks my sound recordist to take pictures of him and his fellow death squad member posing with the river flowing behind them with the thumbs-up and the V for victory. This was in February 2004.

In April 2004 come the photographs from Abu Ghraib, where American soldiers are giving thumbs-up and V for victory while humiliating and torturing people. The question is not so much about the violence that is documented in the photos, but a much bigger, systemic violence and a cultural, moral, political vacuum in which these snapshots are conceivable as mementos of a happy occasion.

I then made The Act of Killing and the work that led up to it contemporaneously with this evolving nightmare in this country where the greater part of the political establishment was celebrating torture. And just as the perpetrators in the The Act of Killing celebrate mass murder, the celebration I think from the beginning was defensive—if you think the tone of [Dick] Cheney and Rush Limbaugh in fact was defensive.

And it's defensive personally—they're probably trying to convince themselves even as, more frighteningly, they're imposing that on everybody else. And when you're imposing that on everybody else there's a veiled threat.

See also: The Act of Killing Is a Masterpiece of Murder and the Movies

Subscribe to the Voice Film Club podcast

« Previous Page

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!