Reliving Genocide


One million workers, intellectuals, and ethnic Chinese were brutally murdered as "communists" during the 1960s in Indonesia. Decades later, their killers not only have escaped retribution; they are celebrated as heroes.

In The Act of Killing, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer invites these killers to re-enact the torture and massacres they committed and to depict these scenes as they see fit. The resulting film is a surreal and morally confused blend of film noir, musical numbers, rape jokes, and drag.

The killers proudly call themselves preman, Indonesian for gangster. One memorable subplot features a killer campaigning for office on a platform of bribery and extortion. Another killer is even more unapologetic. "War crimes are defined by the winners," he says. "I am a winner, so I can make my own definition."

With Werner Herzog and Errol Morris as executive producers, this documentary is an unnerving and wickedly funny exploration of the confluence of pop culture, self-deception, crime, and the state.