Method Acting

See This Movie


I’m going to keep this short. I’m writing this on July 29, and if you live in New York City, LA, or Washington DC you owe it to yourself to see “The Act of Killing,” Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, this week. It’s only playing in town for a week it’s only playing through Mid-August in LA, so don’t put it off. See it on the big screen. See it with an audience. Pay to see it.

Find out if it’s playing near you and go see it.

It’s a documentary revealing such profound contradictions in the human mind and of such immense power that I cannot shake the experience of it out of my head. Here’s the trailer:

It’s hard to comment on the profundity of this film after seeing it, so I’ll let two of its producers – Errol Morris and Werner Herzog – do the talking:

On this blog, I yak a lot about tech, storytelling  from my  limited point of view, and my personal narrative philosophy for what little it’s worth – but “The Act of Killing” is something different.

To me this film is one of the most perfect marriages of art, technique, storytelling, comedy, farce, and truth that I’ve personally seen in years. I’d put it up with documentaries like Frederich Wiseman’s “Titicut Follies” and Errol Morris’ “Mr. Death” in the way it reveals our humanity through people most of us would find difficult to relate to – and it somehow effortlessly manages to work in threads of irony, Grand Guignol (a fancy French term for “blood-soaked theater), camp, symbolism, farce, surrealism, and absurdism in ways that few films (much less documentaries) are able to do when they try.

The story revolves a man named Anwar Congo, who became a  national hero in Indonesia as a member of a famous death squad who (by his own account) personally executed over 1,000 “Communists” (and ethnic Chinese… And whomever the newspapers decried as a communist) during a military overthrow of the Indonesian government between 1965 and 1966. Conflating the term “gangster” to mean “free man,” Congo along with his peers went on to found the right-wing paramilitary organization The Pancasila Youth, which currently boasts over three million members who lionize the exploits Anwar and the genocide in the 1960’s.

In making the documentary the filmmakers found that the murderers themselves were so proud of their exploits in the military takeover that they were willing to participate in a movie reenacting what they’d done.

Anwar Congo is ready for his closeup.

Anwar Congo is ready for his closeup in this reenactment he created.

“The Act of Killing” is a story grounded in many true incidents, yet it contains deep and resonant themes about how the human mind (yes, yours) is able to mythologize and therefore deal with its own troubled  past. It’s a film that made me personally reassess my feelings about morality, the value of a human life, and how susceptible we all are at any given moment to the siren song of malefaction and cruelty. This movie delves powerfully into the idea of The Banality of Evil, as we witness the former members of death squads hang out in the mall with their family, teach children to have empathy for baby ducks, and explain some of he most atrocious acts of cruelty the way most of us would recall any incident from our past.

I will say no more except to point out that in this, one of the most vapid and derivative of years I have personally experienced as a film-goer, movies like this need to be seen and supported if we expect to see more films that really move us. Movies should have power beyond that of extended theme-park rides. Movies – like all art – have the power to make us experience powerful emotions, ask probing questions, experience real fear and true rage, and incite change and growth in us as viewers and even participants.

So please, please, please consider seeing this film. No offense, but “The Wolverine” can wait a week.

To see where you can find “The Act of Killing” in your local area, go to their website:



2 comments on “Method Acting

  1. Thanks, Ben. I hope it comes to Orlando. I have heard it is a truly unique approach to a horrific series of events.


    Mark Lainer 407-516-0134 mahkee@aol.com / marklainer@gmail.com http://marklainer.com

    Sent from my iPad

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