The Act of Killing (2012)
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Wow. I've been looking for motivation lately and this gave me, in its own frightening way, perhaps an ultimate kind of motivation (or is that ultimatum).
First off, visually, it's supreme. Bizarre juxtapositions and pattern interrupts are peppered throughout this with the force of shrapnel, carrying an ironic and sober moral gravity all their own. A pair of Indonesian girls smile at a gambling hall whilst a mass murderer sits beside them in a banal, glum haze. Genocidal paramilitaries pretend to cut off heads with hacksaws whilst dressed as drag queens with feather boas. It blows the mind on both the implicit and explicit levels. This is real horror.
Tonally, it starts as merely unsettling and then builds from there off the back of a kind of nervous laughter, as the case builds against the cast. 45 minutes in, the enormity of what I was watching hit me like a ton of bricks: that these men are normal people, they feel no remorse, and they are gladly supported and applauded by their people, media, and governments in some of the most vile and excruciating crimes humanly possible: essentially, this is a textbook analysis of how a class and state - and YOU - can be utterly perverted much like Nazi Germany, and whilst this has been explored before in film, here the emotional horrors are mapped out like a fearless game of 'chicken'. That alone makes it the most important film of the year, even decade, but it also carries remarkable aesthetic value. It also helps to bring the most popular Hollywood morality plays (eg. the Dark Knight trilogy, Seven) into sharp perspective, yet the nature of the reflecting camera eye here are both more blunt and subtle, as you watch some of those featured gain the vaguest flicker of a moral compass amidst the re-enacted decapitations. There are countless scenes here that will make you not only shudder, but gasp, and it carries more hallucinogenic power than a bag of mushrooms. The utter emptiness of some of the media, in their attempts to politically brainwash and pervert the youth, for example, is a wonder - and yes I draw parallels to modern America, as it takes ominous, solid steps towards this kind of sponsored totality with minimal resistance, and in fact applause to the emergence of the kind of morally vacuous space where privacy and warmth are empty words and illegal war and genocide almost become ethically plausible. Only at the end does the main character, through all his inured scarring and retardation, finally see the truth.
This film has the power to change one's life, one's way of monitoring their own behaviour. Sociopaths form 6% of the population, that's 1 in 16 people. Chances are you know one or more of them; persons who have a flawless artifice of pleasantry that hides an empty, cauterizing and sadistic nihilism, blind to warmth and willfully arrogant with cruelty. Honestly, I expect that the vast majority of my society as a Brit could be persuaded to make a similar turn. How can you say, given this work and (as one example) how the media stirs up anti-immigration furore to a practically racist degree, that I am being cynical? To face the evils in our world today we must be both fearless and unified, but as much against ourselves in examination with the weighed and accepted consequence of our actions. I fully expect to be looking over my shoulders in more ways than one, more so from this point on, vigilant to the subtle monstrosities that can lurk in a people, in loved ones, and neighbors, and how quickly moral standing can be abandoned to a thin justification of atrocity - or even less than that. It represents a nadir of numb monstrosity that should batter the audience to a drugged pulp. Moreover, it should cast a fearsome light on your own morality and whether you consider yourself a 'good person'. The message is a simple and popular one, repeated loudly and often in many shades: look deeply within yourself, see what consequences you can accept, and what you as an individual and society must change - but you must smash your echo chamber of belief because your life depends on it. Play it in schools, in churches, and often. A cinematic flashbang. Highest possible recommendation.
EDIT: So this lost the 'Best Documentary' Oscar to '20 Feet From Stardom' this year, in a night filled with what I felt were otherwise truly deserving wins. I haven't seen the other film yet but I can't imagine how it could have surpassed the sheer impact, power, importance and intensity of this work. It could be said that this was too strong and controversial to swing the minds of mainstream voters. That said, this work is truly its own advertisement and does not need a cultural seal of approval to validate its points, in fact it transcends that forum altogether. I'll continue to promote this as the greatest documentary of the millennium so far.
Okay guys, we all need to work together to make sure aliens never see this movie.
Amazing documentary, one of the best I've ever seen. The best docs manage to invoke genuine deep emotional responses and this achieves that many times over, not only for the viewer but the way in which this journey turned Anwar Congo from a man who was cocky and bragged about his crimes to someone who seemed to show genuine remorse and shame.
Apart from the obvious aspect of hundreds of thousands of people who were executed, one of the most disturbing things is the brazen pride the government and the paramilitaries have in the genocide that was committed. The manner in which the chat show host rallies support and celebration for their crimes, even in the manner of how some were executed. Repulsive.
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In 7 official lists
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This movie ranks #14 in BBC's The 21st Century's 100 Greatest Films
This movie ranks #15 in A.V. Club's The Best Movies of the 2010s
This movie ranks #29 in Sight & Sound's The Greatest Documentaries of All Time
This movie ranks #38 in TSPDT's 21st Century's Most Acclaimed Films
This movie ranks #41 in IMDb's Documentary Top 50
This movie ranks #73 in Arts & Faith's Top 100 Films
This movie ranks #488 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films