Guilt and embarrassment are feelings that come pretty fucking easy to me. Once, in fifth grade, our class put together some sort of cookbook or something for some charity school deal and over the course of trying to figure out how to get the word out, I ended up writing a rap. The class decided that it was pretty cool so we performed it in front of the school. You can probably imagine how terrible a rap, specifically intended to sell amateur cookbooks, written by a white ten year old in 1986 was, but let me tell you guys, it was even lamer than that. Whenever I think of that rap and subsequent performance, I don’t just cringe, I actually make a sound. The sound varies from the sound I’d make if I was getting kicked briskly in the dick to a nervous giggle to a weird “Heyo!” kind of noise. Just in typing this I’ve done all three. I’m serious.
I think of things I’ve said to people while angry or horny or hammered, or instances where I let someone treat me like shit, and the “heyo!s” just start flying. Times I’ve tried something grandiose only to have it turn out shitty and times I’ve been afraid to try at all for fear of it turning out shitty—these are all moments that make my soul totally squeeze in on itself and pop out of my mouth in the form of one of the many involuntary ways that my embarrassment at myself for being alive manifests itself physically. I guess it’s pretty amusing. I don’t know.
On the other side, the shame of being kind of a dick does the same thing. I mentioned the simple moments of kindness the other day. Times I can recall not extending those simple gestures of humanity to people…ugh. I hate it. I do the groans and moans for that too. And god forbid I’m actually a dick to someone who doesn’t deserve it. I mean, I have no problem being a dick to someone who’s already being a dick, but on those moments where I’m not thinking clearly or where I misinterpret something or I’m just having a bad day and I recognize that I’ve been a willful dick to someone who doesn’t deserve it, that haunts me. Ugh. I fucking hate it.
That’s why when I watched the Act Of Killing last night I was so blown away by the subjects. For those of you who don’t know, the Act of Killing is a documentary about a couple of Indonesian death squad leaders getting back together to do reenactments of their coolest feats of cold-blooded slaughter. There’s quite a crew. There’s Anwar, who’s pretty charismatic and generally the star of the movie. He’s a grandpa and a funny old wastoid in a pink cowboy hat. My buddy, who I went to see The Act of Killing with, pointed out that Anwar kind of resembles an Indonesian Nelson Mandela, which is hilarious because he spends a lot of his screen time gleefully recounting the different ways that he’s personally killed what he (and others in the film) estimates to be over a thousand people. His main buddy is this coked out, fat, longhair guy who is in drag for half the movie, running for parliament in one scene and grinding his jaw the entire time, all while finding the time to blow bubbles with his 4ish daughter and/or scare the shit out of her til she bursts into tears. They meet up with a cowardly journalist with disgusting teeth, and Adi, Anwar’s old murder buddy and one of the most cold blooded sumbitches you’ll ever meet, another dude that brags about raping 14 year old girls, a guy who’s somehow willing to be part of this reenactment movie that Anwar and Adi are making even though these guys killed his DAD when he was a kid. A whole slew of other people also feature into this perverse universe, each more wildly bizarre than the last.
The point of the movie is this sort of confrontation with humanity vis a vis evil and it’s very moving. Setpieces range from the shittiest slum you’ve ever seen to the roof of a purse shop (“we used to kill everyone up here, but there was so much blood and it smelled terrible when we’d clean it so we started strangling people with wire…very little blood”) to a gigantic rusted carp stuffed with beautiful dancing girls to a jingoistic anti communist talk show where the audience is comprised entirely of paramilitary thugs in orange fatigues…dude, I can’t even wrap my head around it even now.
There is nothing more surreal than reality. That’s what this movie really proves. You thought the Running Man was a dark dystopia (google it, whippersnapper!)? Sheeeeeit, bro, check out when the VICE PRESIDENT of Indonesia is addressing a dinner party of gangsters and telling them that the way they beat the shit out of people and shake em down is exactly the way to get shit done. Marvel at these guys making children cry over and over again as they film reenactments that require them to simulate murdering grandparents in front of toddlers and dragging said toddlers through the dirt and fire (Yes. I said fire). At the end of these reenactments everyone is still alive (though one poor woman needs to be revived by way of having water dumped over her head) and it’s clear that these kids will be fucked up forever. For the victims of Anwar and Adi’s first go-round and those victims’ kids, however, when there were no cameras and old Rapey D was roaming around unbuckled and unchecked….ugh. You get the idea. If the reenactments are this scarring, the reality must have been unimaginable. Yet here these guys are…Old Anwar and Adi, two old dogs getting the band back together one last time.
The thing is, these guys make it seem so easy. Anwar particularly is a likeable enough, pleasant guy. He seems like a typical take-no-shit, party grandpa. But fuck. He’s personally used his own hands to kill nearly two hundred times the amount of people that Jeffery Dahmer killed. And not only has he not been punished, he’s kind of a minor celebrity for it all. It’s a crazy fucking world, folks. A crazy world.
Ultimately, as the movie draws to an end, the filmmaker, Josh Oppenheimer begins showing Anwar the footage of his reenactments and Anwar finally starts to see how brutal what he’s done actually is. It’s powerful stuff. From there, it’s back to the roof of the purse store for one of the most memorable and stomach churning scenes in probably the history of film.
If the notion of art is to mash a perspective up against a small piece of the universe to thereby reveal a greater truth (and I’m not saying it is, but it’s a decent enough starting point for the purposes of this dumb essay) then there’s no doubt that this movie is a fucking masterpiece. What is the nature of evil? What is the nature of humanity? What is guilt? What is remorse? Oppenheimer does a hell of a job of letting these guys and their deeds speak for themselves. In fairness, they’re so compelling he could have just put one of them in a gopro and it would probably still be Oscar worthy. As it stands, the Act of Killing is one of the most darkly moving and weirdly awesome movies I’ve seen in a while, perhaps ever. You should go.