… has made a remarkable film about mass killings in Indonesia. It is echt postmodern in being a surreal reenactment – by the killers themselves – of long-ago events altogether too real. Hyperreal.

“The Act of Killing” becomes a complex rendering of men for whom guilt has no normal way of expressing itself, and for whom killing was, from the very start, a kind of theatrical performance.

I think there’s a link between this film and the uproar over the adorable rock and roll photo of Tsarnaev on the cover of the latest Rolling Stone. Those who massacred in Indonesia did so in part under the glamorizing influence of American gangster movies. The editors who cynically aestheticized Tsarnaev’s image on their cover did so under the influence of the same violence-glamor, violence-voyeurism.

In his basically positive review of Josh’s film, the New Yorker‘s Anthony Lane says he doesn’t understand what Oppenheimer means when he calls The Act of Killing “a documentary of the imagination.” But what’s not to understand? Does Lane have trouble with

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare…

also? Sometimes historical conditions make it possible for people to act out their most brutal fantasies; sometimes things get so sick that we glamorize the most brutal among us. Humanity’s self-alienation, Walter Benjamin wrote in 1936, “has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.” Without artists like Oppenheimer (and, say, writers like The White Hotel‘s D.M. Thomas, and other filmmakers like Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, who made Hitler: A Film from Germany) we’d get even more lost in that funhouse than we are.

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