Director, Joshua Oppenheimer, made a good choice by choosing to direct Act of Killing in an observational style. The style fit well with the overall topic of discussion, the killings of communists in Indonesia. This tragic event has been relatively unknown to the rest of the world, which is why it was a good decision by Joshua to present his findings in an “unbiased” way. Joshua let a variety of people from both sides, communists (ethnic Chinese), and capitalists (Indonesian), talk about their stories and feelings towards the murders that happened. This style allowed people watching this documentary to form their own conclusions about this dark event that occurred, utilizing the documentary as a tool for activism.
This article, states how most documentaries about murders, only interview the murderers, which is why most of them are interviewed in prison, or their voice or face is hidden. In this documentary, both the people related to the victims, and the killers are interviewed, with their voice or face not being hidden. That explains the long list of credits given to locals at the end of the film with the name “anonymous”. Making the documentary, feel more authentic, where nothing is hidden, and all the facts are presented in an unbiased way.
The other accompanying article, states that this “documentary is about the real effects of living a fiction”. This quote perfectly describes what viewers took away from this documentary, that these former murderers are living in a fantasy, along with the rest of the country. An example of this is when the gangsters are on a live talk show and the host asks Anwar if he feared the revenge of the victims’ relatives and Anwar responds, “They cant. When they raise their heads, we wipe them out!”, and the entire audience bursts into cheers, as if the killing of thousands of innocent people is something to cheer about. The “gangsters” are lost in this fantasy world, believing that what they did was right. They even wanted to show their killings in very elaborate and over the top “Hollywood” ways. Joshua does the smart thing and allows them to do so by having costumes, “cheesy” movie lines, and gangster movie inspired scenes. I believe Joshua allowed them to do this, in order to show viewers that to these gangsters, their murders were just like the ones in the gangster movies they grew up watching, and how lost they are in this fantasy world they created for themselves. An interesting event occurs during one of these re-enactment scenes. As Anwar is re-enacting one of his killings, where he is in a dark room interrogating a suspected communist, he starts to realize how wrong all of this was, he feels so guilty that they have to stop the entire scene because he could not bear to finish it. Joshua most likely did not predict that this would happen, but he took the chance regardless and experimented with this, allowing things to unfold on their own, which resulted in that powerful scene. He stated that this decision was inspired by Hamlet, which had a play inside of a play, just like this documentary. The play inside of a play style was beautiful aesthetically (Herman dressed up as a woman), but also made the stories more authentic, since the killers acted out their own murders, versus someone just describing it. The gangsters experienced “reality itself as a fiction”, which is a style I have never seen in a documentary. Showing how one’s fantasy becomes their reality.
Joshua does not express his own opinions until the very last scene, and he does it very smartly. At the very end Joshua finally speaks and tells Anwar how his killings have caused a lot of people and their families to suffer and as a result, Anwar starts to break down. Joshua filmed this entire moment all in one take, with not cuts or editing, making the emotions of that scene very authentic to viewers. He did the same thing when Anwar visited the place where he used to do his killings and placed the dead bodies in bags, and he started to cry because of how guilty that area made him feel.
As Joshua stated, “I want to immerse you in a world so that it becomes a nightmare… a kind of fever dream”, which he certainly did do, thanks to his unique yet very entertaining directing style for this documentary.