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"The Look of Silence" and "The Act of Killing"...


Leon Troutsky
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If you haven't watched these two movies, I highly recommend them.  On its face, the topic seems very arcane and obscure...both films revolve around the massacre of "communists" by the Indonesian military in the 1960s.  At the time, "communist" was an accusation used as an excuse to murder and slaughter people, often in extremely brutal and torturous ways.  The people killed were often political opponents such as labor union leaders, but sometimes they were just people with whom some locals held a grudge.  

The Act of Killing follows 2-3 leaders of the "death squads", who describe in an insanely jovial manner about how they killed people, where they killed them, and what they did with them when they were captured.  And that's where the movies get interesting...they show people who did horrific things, got by with them with zero ramifications (and in fact prospered in part because of their roles), and how they handle that history juxtaposed against their present life as community leaders and others respected in society.

The Look of Silence is the sequel - it's up for an Oscar now - and it interviews the survivors and the families of those slaughtered along with those who committed the acts.  In one case, the brother of a victim (and son of a survivor) is discussing the murders with one of the killers while the brother helps the old man adjust his prescription eyeglasses.  The guy knows this old man likely killed his brother, and the conversation is unbelievably frank.  The old man even describes how they would drink the blood of the victims to prevent them from going insane.

So all of that is to highlight a part of the movie (which is only $0.99 rental on Amazon) that I thought was worth sharing, especially as it relates to Islam in Indonesia and also around the world more generally.

The brother and his father (who escaped before they were going to kill him) visit the place where the killing took place.  The father is walking through saying things like, "God be with those who died here.  God be with my friends and my family who are in this place.  These things are in the past.  It is for God now to punish those who harmed them."  There was obviously grief, but no anger or thoughts of revenge.  Only, "God will punish them in the afterlife, these things are in the past now."

Then, fast forward to the conversation between the brother and the old man who killed hundreds of people during the slaughter.  After he describes the taste of human blood and also describing cutting off a woman's breast, the brother asks (and I'm quoting here):

Brother: Did you cut your victims more than once?

Old Man: No, only once!  You must not cut humans twice.

Brother: Then why did you cut off the woman's breast?

Old Man: Why not?

Brother:  You cut off her breast.  And then?

Old Man: Her throat.

Brother:. That's twice.

Old Man: It doesn't matter.  If they're bad people, you can hack them up.

Brother: But Islam doesn't teach killing.

Old Man: No, it doesn't.  Islam is against killing.  But you're allowed to kill your enemies.  

The old man gets very angry, berates the guy for asking about politics, and then says "And I have no more time.  I'm going to the mosque."

After some talk about the man's prescription eyeglasses, the brother then tells him, "But something disturbs me.  I'm not here to harm you but to reveal the true history.  All this time, history has been distorted.  The people you killed had no religion - it's a lie.  It's only propaganda, to give religious people like you an excuse to kill."

The point, I suppose, of quoting this is to focus on how often people can be made to act against their religious beliefs given certain social contexts or social pressure.  Unlike the people in The Act of Killing, this old man was deeply conflicted about what he had done and how it related to his religious beliefs.  The cognitive dissonance that came through in that conversation - Islam is against killing...but you can kill your enemies if they are bad people...as long as you drink their blood so you do not go crazy - shows the conflict between all of these competing influences on people.  It shows how government propaganda (not to mention the desire of people to maintain high social status) can influence people to act out against the teachings of their own religion and commit very horrific acts.  A lot of focus is placed on those who kill in the name of their religion, but in a lot of cases atrocities and human rights abuses are done in conflict with people's religious beliefs, as a result of social and governmental pressures that "give religious people...an excuse to kill" when they otherwise would not violate their faith in that manner.  

There's nothing gory or NSFW about the movies, and most of them are subtitled.  Yet it's one of the most deeply disturbing and horrific pair of movies that I've seen in awhile and, given a lot of the discussion on these boards Islam specifically and faith generally, I figured it was something people might find interesting.  

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22 minutes ago, Psychic Gibbon said:

I haven't watching the sequel but I did watch The Act of Killing when it was released. Very chilling look into a society where the perpetrators of a genocide won and celebrate themselves, but the most chilling thing about it is that you feel bad for the man they follow around despite horrible things he did by the end.

Yeah, that was amazing.

There is one thing about the Act of Killing that I really object to.  Culturally, people in Indonesia smile when they deliver bad news or when they are in uncomfortable situations.  So the main guy in Act of Killing comes across as a sociopath and more evil than he is today.  He's still a bad guy, but all of the smiling throughout the movie was not joyful in nature.  Don't want to make more out of that then it deserves, and the smiling part is hardly universal.  But yeah, it's really chilling how sympathetic we feel towards this guy who did all of these horrific things by the end. 

The Look of Silence, though, is not nearly as bizarre and fantastical.  It's a lot more raw and gritty than the Act of Killing.

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13 minutes ago, toadfishtom said:

Those sound like the most depressing films ever made.       :huh:

:lol:

They're not happy, warm fuzzy movies, that's for sure.  But I think they're fascinating because you get such a close, frank look into the thoughts of murderers.  The fact that they are community leaders and well-respected (some consider them heroes) today, and never faced justice for their actions, makes it all the more fascinating.

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