YIDFF 2013 International Competition
The Act of Killing
An Interview with Joshua Oppenheimer (Director)

Reflections Upon A Dark Mirror

Q: Can you describe the significance of the richly colored, psychedelic scene that reappears throughout the film?

JO: By adding these scenes, I wanted to express both the poetic parts of life, as well as the ways in which people drown in the stories we tell. Because of this, and in spite of the violence that exists in the world, humans can still remain optimistic. The huge fish with its gaping mouth used to be a seafood resteraunt; Herman used to play as a woman in a Pancasila Youth theatrical company, and that is why he played the part in my film. And through this, I wanted to make a proposition to all the respective perpetrators. I also received many other ideas.

Q: You seem close to Anwar and his assailants, that you have a strong relationship of mutual trust.

JO: I have conveyed to Anwar my candid opinions about the atrocities he has committed, and he has told me of his own personal pains he has to face. I believe this film was a great chance for Anwar to consider the true nature of the act of killing. To the very end Anwar insisted that despite the wrongness of the massive killings, he had to do it. The vomiting scene—which I do not believe was a ploy—seemed to be an instance of him expelling from himself ghosts of the past. But nothing came out, because he himself is a ghost. We are our very own pasts.

Q: This film is set in Indonesia, but I believe the ethical problems investigated throughout the film are not limited to a single country’s domestic situation.

JO: What I wished for the audience of this film to consider is how these perpetrators of past crime are able to coexist with their own internal feelings of guilt. The clear depiction of the domestic affairs of Indonesia in the 1960’s serves here as a very dark mirror in which we can find our own reflection. Within each individual there is a dark side which harbors feelings of guilt, and it is in order to avoid feeling that guilt that we tell ourselves stories. How is it that a man as villainous as Anwar could be filmed? It is because more than being a villain, he is first and foremost a human being. Beyond any criterion of good and evil, I capture these perpetrators as human in the universal sense of the word. What is the basis of good and evil? Empathizing with one does not mean a denial of empathy for another: by empathizing with the perpetrators, I do not mean to mourn any less the fate of the victims. This is why for my next film I am considering focusing upon the families of the victims.

Q: I think the long list of “Anonymous” contributors to the film makes for a rather frank reflection of the state of affairs at the time of this film’s creation. What kind of influence did this film have upon Indonesian society?

JO: Previously, this history of genocide was discussed as a victory over communists. The dark reality concealed in this past, which had never before been unveiled, has now made for a complete transformation. A certain editor pointed out that my film clearly divides pre-genocide from post-genocide. Beyond being too scared to articulate their experiences, the victims were too scared to even think about them. At last this is changing, as they are finding the courage to speak. This film is about the statement, “The Emperor is Naked!” At present, there are independent screenings being held all over Indonesia.

(Compiled by Yoshida Miwa)

Interviewers: Yoshida Miwa, Morikawa Miku / Interpreter: Yamanouchi Etsuko / Translator: Jason Douglass
Photography: Shibasaki Narumi / Video: Nakata Ryo / 2013-10-12