Lookup NU author(s): Dr Simon Philpott
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).
The massacre, torture, persecution, and imprisonment of real and imagined communists and sympathizers in mid-1960s Indonesia was among the greatest state-sponsored atrocities of the twentieth century and yet remains little known and even less understood outside Indonesia. An elaborate mythology about the supposed communist coup attempt of September 1965 was foundational to the military government’s legitimacy discourses. The dead, the tortured, and the imprisoned remained an existential threat to Indonesia’s survival according to these discourses, and yet they could not be spoken of, or acknowledged without fear of retribution from the state. This article explores one attempt to break the silence surrounding the massacres and to make visible the suffering of millions of Indonesians; it does so through an analysis of the documentary film, The Act of Killing, in which a number of those involved in mass murder re-enact their killings. It explores the contribution of the film to understanding the politics of mass murder through an interrogation of the history it purports to address and through the methods employed by filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer. It concludes that while the film is a singular achievement, it fails as a political intervention aimed at deepening understanding of the mass killings.
Author(s): Philpott S
Publication type: Article
Publication status: Published
Journal: International Political Sociology
Print publication date: 01/09/2017
Online publication date: 11/05/2017
Acceptance date: 01/01/1900
Date deposited: 05/06/2017
ISSN (print): 1749-5679
ISSN (electronic): 1749-5687
Publisher: Oxford University Press
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