Film & TV

The Act of Killing Director Joshua Oppenheimer on What Violence Abroad Means for the U.S.

The Act of Killing is one of the most breathtaking horror films you'll ever see. The documentary by Danish-American filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer dives into the psyches of several paramilitary men and gangsters who helped massacre over a million so-called "communists" in Indonesia following a military coup in 1965. Melding dramatized scenes of killing devised by the killers themselves with matter-of-fact interviews with the men, this film is probably one of the most impactful socio-political documentaries ever made.

The film opens with a quote by Voltaire: "It is forbidden to kill. Therefore, all murderers are punished, unless they kill in large numbers, and to the sound of trumpets." Not only does this documentary provide insight into the minds of the killers, but it also places a magnifying glass on the derailment of human conscience by the act of killing for the sake of so-called patriotism.

Oppenheimer directed the film with Christine Cynn and survivors of the brutality simply identified in the credits as "Anonymous." Speaking via phone from a hotel room in New York City, Oppenheimer says his goal with this film, which he had been working on for eight years, was to give a voice to the victims and "expose a regime of impunity."

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Hans Morgenstern has contributed to Miami New Times for too many decades, but he's grown to love Miami's arts and culture scene because of it. He is the chair of the Florida Film Critics Circle, and most of his film criticism can be found on Independent Ethos ( if not in New Times.