Over the weekend, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, and Joshua Oppenheimer hosted a Reddit AMA about their Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Act of Killing.” Like the film, their AMA is unlike anything you will ever encounter. Here are some of the highlights.
1. The international community is complicit in the atrocities of the 1965 Genocide. Why? Because it was convenient not to pay attention.
Oppenheimer’s explanation for why the international community ignored the genocide for so long is chilling. It was “Convenience. Because some of the most powerful players in the international community – US, UK, Japan – are among the perpetrators of these crimes.”
2. The Indonesian people have gotten the permission and the courage to start healing from an atrocious historical wound. However, Indonesia might have to wait for true reconciliation.
An Indonesian fan thanked the trio for making the film, saying the film “has reverberated strongly within my community. Still, I don’t think anything will change until at least the ‘old guards’ generation is dead.“
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3. Oppenheimer originally set out to make the film from the victims’ perspective, working in collaboration with a network of genocide survivors and human rights activists. However, when the regime strong-armed the victims out of participating, Oppenheimer switched tactics. The filmmaker started following the perpetrators, who turned out to possess a twisted pride about their war crimes. When Oppenheimer showed what he was finding to survivors and the broader Indonesian human rights community, “everybody said, more or less: ‘You are on to something terribly important. Keep filming the perpetrators, because anybody who sees this will be forced to acknowledge the rotten heart of the regime the killers have built.'”
4. We now know how the warlords reacted after seeing the final documentary.
According to Oppenheimer, “The perpetrators in general hate it. Anwar is moved by it, and stands by it, saying ‘The film shows what it it’s like to be me.’ The military hates it.”
5. It’s insanely difficult to admit, but the perpetrators are still, in fact, human.
When asked if he’s ever been disturbed by the content of his work, Werner gave an honest and disarming response: “The key insight during this work and other films that I made, was that murderers and executioners are human beings, not monsters. The crimes are monstrous, but the killers still remain human. This is the great and devastating lesson to learn from ‘The Act of Killing.'”
6. In the harrowing final scene, Anwar retches uncontrollably, throttled by the ghosts of his past and the realization that he will never escape history or himself. Some viewers thought that he was ‘acting’ or feigning remorse to get sympathy from Oppenheimer and us, the audience. Oppenheimer challenges us to accept the truth of the film’s wrenching conclusion.
In his words, “Regarding the final scene on the roof: I have no doubt that Anwar is really retching. And in fact, I suspect viewers who feel he is faking it are in fact trying to protect themselves from the full terrible implications of empathizing with him as a human being in that moment.”
7. Documentary filmmakers should never go in expecting results:
As Oppenheimer says, “The moment I expect the results I get, the filmmaking process is finished, or should be abandoned. The whole point is to journey into the unknown.”
8. Herzog loves Nicolas Cage, who he worked with on “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.”
As Herzog says, and I think anyone would agree, “there’s nothing better in one shot together, than Nicholas Cage and an iguana.”
9. The three geniuses have a totally awesome, totally disturbed working relationship. Also, Eddie Murphy could be someone’s spirit animal. Probably Herzog’s…
When asked how they go about picking new projects, Oppenheimer says, “Werner told me my next project should be an Eddie Murphy comedy. Instead, I made a film about survivors of the 1965 genocide confronting the men who killed their son – coming soon. Errol told me that this IS an Eddie Murphy comedy. So I guess my approach is to do the opposite of what Werner advises, and dismiss Errol’s advice as bonkers.”
10. Herzog and Oppenheimer are not fans of chickens.
In Herzog’s words: “Look into the eyes of a chicken and you will see real stupidity. It is a kind of bottomless stupidity, a fiendish stupidity. They are the most horrifying, cannibalistic and nightmarish creatures in the world.”
Oppenheimer joins the strange existential humor, noting that “chickens are living manifestations of death, bred only to be domesticated and killed. When we look into their eyes, we see the part of ourselves of which we are most afraid – our ultimate destination. Death.”
I will never be able to look a chicken in the eyes again. Will you?