Chilling Burlesque: The Act of Killing
The documentary The Act of Killing (Oppenheimer, 2013) is a recording of the process of how perpetrators look back on the crime of killing (the allegedly communist) opponents of the military regime in Indonesia after the army’s coup d’état in 1965-66. This film is distinct from many other documentaries about war and conflict, in that it neither uses the expository mode often used for historical documentaries – the mode that tells the viewer confidently what happened, often by using survivor interviews, re-enactment, and iconic historical props – nor the observational or ‘fly-on-the-wall’ mode dominant in contemporary war documentaries resulting from embedded journalism. Instead, this documentary employs a mix of reflexive and poetic frames (cf. Pötzsch, 2013; Bonner, 2013). The challenge of ‘representing the unpresentable’ visibly informs the structure of the film, while the scope of the historical drama is evoked, not represented, by using theatrical props and settings. Assembled almost haphazardly and often veering on the grotesque, the eerie murder weapons, poky interrogation rooms, and fantasy attire establish a metonymic connection to the past. The effect is chilling and utterly perplexing. This paper will discuss how the films strange material scaffolding allows the main in the The Act of Killing to re-enact the drama of the past as the perpetrators they once were. Re-enactment is in fact one of the key-terms in the film as it quietly establishes a veiled connection between trauma and performance (or performativity) that allows for a sense of continuity between the past and the present, both on the personal level and politically.
|Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC)
Fokkema, A. (2017). Chilling Burlesque: The Act of Killing. In Materializing Memory in Art and Popular Culture (pp. 175–190). doi:10.4324/9781315472171