July 2, 2015
The Act of Killing
Posted on Sep 23, 2013
By Chris Hedges
“Well, there was a grocery store owner,” the man begins hesitantly. “He was the only Chinese person in the region. To be honest, he was my stepfather. But even though he was my stepfather, I lived with him since I was a baby. At 3 a.m., someone knocked on our door. They called my dad. Mom said, ‘It’s dangerous! Don’t go out.’ But he went out. We heard him shout, ‘Help!’ And then, silence. They took him away. We couldn’t sleep until morning.”
“How old were you?” he is asked.
“Eleven or 12,” he answers. “I remember it well. And it’s impossible to forget something like this. We found his corpse under an oil drum. The drum was cut in half and the body was under it, like this,” he says as he doubles over a piece of paper to illustrate. “His head and feet were covered by sacks. But one foot poked out like this.” The crew member raises one foot off the ground. “So the same morning, nobody dared help us,” he says.
“We buried him like a goat next to the main road,” he says with a forced smile as if the burial story should be amusing. “Just me and my grandfather, dragging the body, digging the grave. No one helped us. I was so young. Then, all the communist families were exiled. We were dumped in a shantytown at the edge of the jungle. That’s why, to be honest, I’ve never been to school. I had to teach myself to read and write.”
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“Why should I hide this from you?” he says to the former death squad leaders, who listen with wry smiles. “This way, we can know each other better. Right? I promise I’m not trying to undermine what we’ve done. This isn’t a criticism. It’s only input for the film. I promise, I’m not criticizing you.”
Congo and the other killers dismiss his story as inappropriate for the film because, as Herman Koto tells the crew member, “everything’s already been planned.”
“We can’t include every story or the film will never end,” another death squad veteran says.
“And your story is too complicated,” Congo adds. “It would take days to shoot.”
The killers in the film no longer wield the power that comes with indiscriminate terror, although they periodically wander through local markets to extort money from shopkeepers, a practice Oppenheimer captures on film.
When they carry out murder re-enactments, however, it triggers memories of a time when they were more than petty criminals, when they had license to do anything they wanted to anyone they chose in the name of the war against communism.
“If they’re pretty, I’d rape them all, especially back then when we were the law,” one of the killers remembers. “Fuck ’em! Fuck the shit out of everyone I meet.”
“Especially if you get one who’s only 14 years old,” he adds after he and some other death squad veterans pantomime molesting a girl and holding a knife to her throat. “Delicious! I’d say, it’s gonna be hell for you but heaven on earth for me.”
There are moments, usually years after their crimes, when even the most savage killers have brief flashes of self-recognition, although they usually do not reflect upon or examine these revelations. They are often, however, haunted by specific moments of murder. Oppenheimer closes his film with a re-enactment scene where Congo begins by placidly describing the murders he committed at that spot and ends by retching and vomiting.
“I remember I said, ‘Get out of the car,’ ” Congo says of one killing. “He asked, ‘Where are you taking me?’ Soon, he refused to keep walking, so I kicked him as hard as I could in the stomach. I saw Roshiman bringing me a machete. Spontaneously, I walked over to him and cut his head off. My friends didn’t want to look. They ran back to the car. And I heard this sound. His body had fallen down. And the eyes in his head were still. ...”
He trails off.
“On the way home,” he finishes, “I kept wondering, why didn’t I close his eyes? And that is the source of all my nightmares. I’m always gazed at by those eyes that didn’t close.”
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