Thursday, June 13, 2013

The act of killing: definitions of war crimes and sin

In an important review of a new film, The Act of Killing, Dr Justine Toh, Senior Research Fellow at Sydney’s Centre for Public Christianity, says that removing God completely from our modern discourse on justice will mean that many of our efforts to seek justice will be at best partial and incomplete: 

When confronted by the atrocities he committed in Indonesia in the 1960s, gangster Anwar Congo asks "Have I sinned? I did this to so many people", as he starts to cry. The 's' word jars on the modern ear, writes Justine Toh.

When Joshua Oppenheimer tried to make a film about the survivors of anti-communist purges in 1960s Indonesia no-one would talk to him for fear of reprisal.

Ask the killers themselves, they said. Oppenheimer did, and found ageing mass murderers living fat and happy off the spoils of war having never had to answer for their crimes.

So eager were they to crow about their pasts they agreed to make a film re-enacting their exploits according to Hollywood movie clichés.

The Act of Killing, screening at the Sydney Film Festival, is the result. The documentary explores the stories we tell so that we can live with ourselves and yet also the way those fictions reveal truths we'd rather not face.

That's the journey undergone by Anwar Congo, a central figure of the film who was one of the most feared men of Indonesia's killing fields.

Early on, Anwar takes Oppenheimer up onto a roof to explain how he dispatched his victims. Bludgeoning them to death caused too much mess, he said, and so he devised a cleaner, more efficient technique inspired by the gangster films he loved: strangling them with wire . . . CONTINUE READING


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