Un-distorting history: watching ‘The Act of Killing’ and ‘The Look of Silence’

the look of silence

 

Looking through the history of mankind, one of the most significant feats in humanity’s constant social engineering process is the constantly reshaping ‘nation-building’ project. In a path towards building a single identity (beginning from ‘the social contract’ introduced by Thomas Hobbes), the Leviathan – in this case, rulers or leaders of a political entity – ‘enforced’ its legitimacy to the masses regarding the importance of adhering to certain ideals, values, and/or propositions that are suitable with the existing collective consciousness. Thus we saw, especially after the Peace of Westphalia Treaty, the emergence of sovereign states, all the while with people of multifaceted cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds. Two centuries later, in the mid-19th century, we saw the emergence of ‘nation-state’ concept, embodied so strongly from originally the core territories (Europe), which would then spread into the rest of the world through colonialism or its indirect forces, shaping the international order (and all the ‘artificial’ borders crafted across countries) that we now see on our maps at this moment. Afterwards, there came the Cold War, where the new competing powers (United States and its Western bloc, vis-a-vis Soviet Union and its Communist allies), in the aftermath of two devastating wars that ended colonialism, sought to fill in the ‘global leadership vacuum’ left behind by the severely-diminished colonial forces. All over, the ‘nation-building’ projects were once again reconfigured throughout hundreds of newly-independent countries, with the single aim of projecting the major power’s influence and finesse in these areas.

While the nation-building in the past has resulted in the existing global order (and global equilibrium) we live in today, it has – throughout different parts of the world – also resulted in disproportionately huge numbers of lives, money, and legitimacy lost in the process. Some people perish en masse, oftentimes with numbers reaching millions, to pave way for the current system to operate. The truth is cruel, but all the more so with this world; history, as I would agree has been ‘prostituted by the state’, serves to ‘decorate’ the bloody aspect of the nation-building into the one we are living through every single day. At one point, we can hardly imagine what alternate reality we would be living in in the absence of the existing systems; on the other hand, specters of the past are demanding the answer of how we should not forget their own reality. Therefore, I could say that all, if not almost all, nations remain haunted by the tumultuous histories of the past.

Inevitably speaking, this includes Indonesia. It was a huge shock to me when I watched Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2012 film ‘The Act of Killing’ (which was actually set in my hometown, Medan) back in November 2013; all the while I have never (and I guess 260 million others) truly learned about the ’empty years’ in 1965 and 1966. What I only knew was that 7 army generals were murdered by Communist collaborators on September 30, 1965, and afterwards there was a ‘national movement’ to ‘expel’ the forces, led by Gen. Suharto, who would become the country’s second president (from 1966 up to 1998). The real truth was way more starkly brutal and even ‘gore’; a massacre, dubbed ‘anti-Communist’, saw between 500,000 and 3,000,000 people killed, and other millions tortured, imprisoned, and expelled overseas. The killers are still alive, and they are, as much as I am awed, part of our society; history was ‘directed’ to the entire nation that these ‘killings’ were a nation-salvaging mission, and the killers were celebrated as ‘heroes’. Thus was the inconvenient truth we have to live in, up to now.

And there came the sequel, ‘The Look of Silence’, in 2014, this time set in Java island. With the duration slightly above half of the former, this documentary provides an intense face-to-face conversation between the victim’s family and the so-called ‘heroes’ (or you can call the killers); not unlike the previous film, this movie has had the effect of polarizing the views of various people in the country. Political parties, religious organizations, and even factions within the military strongly condemn the movies as ‘contorting’ the history that they endorse; some people, however, begin to speak up openly. The two movies are screened in various universities and schools nationwide, in spite of occasional acts of violence by several organization members. While the polarization continues, as uneasy as it is, it begins to crack open the asymmetries that underlie the past towards us. Indeed, if I would be frank, Indonesia is not alone when it comes to having a national tragedy as a scar resulting from the nation-building projects; the whole world has the same ‘skeletons in the closet’, slowly by which, the truth will be cracked open.

It is of my apology that the two movies below, while using Bahasa Indonesia, will have no English subtitles. At least I hope the explanation in this post will help. If you understand the language, you can watch the movies below, which, credits to Joshua, are now available for free in Youtube.

 

The Act of Killing – titled ‘Jagal’ in Bahasa:

 

The Look of Silence – titled ‘Senyap’ in Bahasa:

“Yang Ketu7uh” / “The Seventh One”

 

For those who are still curious about how Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election became a very closely-fought one with one of the world’s highest participation rates (over 75%), you can watch the documentary’s trailer on the video above. As 17 journalists collaborated across the country to record the days leading up to the election, and the result announcement amid tensions and potential for political deadlocks, they recorded the emotions, the responses, and how ordinary people got themselves, directly and indirectly, entangled with democracy. And you can see a huge collective power running the atmosphere.

In Havana

 

When it comes to Cuba, what that comes in the mind of most people are no more than ‘Castro’, ‘Guantanamo’, ‘one of the world’s last socialist, and backward, states’, ‘Bay of Pig crisis’, and simply ‘immigrants who ended up moving to Florida’.

It is true the country still lives under the shadows of socialist regime, having hinged on a derelict Soviet-style system that no longer works in most parts of the world. Some reforms took place, but they didn’t completely transform the lives of Cuban people. It is growing slow, with all its outdated paraphernalia, leaving an impression as though the country were slowly left to die.

But it’s not a completely sad-ending story, somehow. As Ezaram Vambe recorded, through slow-motion pictures and time lapses across Havana, the capital, he sought to break our common misconceptions about how we should perceive the city, the people, and overall, the entire nation. It may be backwards, as you see from derelict buildings, but one thing you can hardly miss, in the end, is the people, their attitude, and their restless energy in making their lives advance forward.

May that spirit endure.

A Tribute to Discomfort

 

Dropping out of school, and living the life of the homeless, the young Cory Richards had never expected what he would become in the future. Nonetheless, in a twist of fates, and through gradual transformation in phases of life experiences, he gained a new school to learn better, take and tackle challenges, and even grab control of his own destiny; the school later he called it ‘the world’. The world outside there, with numerous natural features and its particular challenges, ranging from the tallest mountains, avalanches, oceans, peoples, faces, all of which taught him different stories and lessons, and all of which would reshape and enlighten his life forever.

Now, the new Cory Richards is born: no longer lingering in the cycles of desperation, he is now a well-dedicated National Geographic photographer and explorer, all the time committed to bringing us, and the whole world, a new perspective on life, and how it should be well-lived while we are still here.

Here’s the video, and this is where we should pay our tribute to all the breakthroughs and horizon-expanding experiences he had gained, with struggle, with blood, and with tears. Enjoy.

“Left”, by Eamonn O’Neill

 

A brilliant Irish animation about friendship, conflict, teenage life, and different paths of life that eventually separate lives that were one close – with one going upwards, and the other spiraling downwards.

Hope this short film bring us to reflect back our lives, and how unexpected occurrences can alter the direction of each of our lives forever.

Why Hong Kong never sleeps

July 2011

 

 

Before you watch the time-lapse videos below, let me ask you one question: do you thoroughly realize the ultimate hustle and bustle that never ceases preoccupying this city? Either you see it from its light-coruscated skyline, its seemingly endless flow of passers-by, vehicles, buses, and trucks going back and forth, or the slam-bang noises you hear in almost any restaurant, or even simply moving boats, ships, and passenger jets, this is undeniably true of the real spirit of Hong Kong.

Whatever people have said that situation in Hong Kong is generally deteriorating after its handover to China in 1997, or whatever they quoth that the British administration did much better, the Hong Kong spirit is still maintained to this date. But, in the long run, though, nobody can lucidly predict the long-term future afterwards.

Whatever the discomfiture, soothe down your mind awhile and watch the videos below!

 

 

The most recent one:

 

The sound of ‘Gravity’

gravity-movie-poster

 

 

They say this film is gonna bring everyone else completely mad and totally disconnected from reality, nah? (Hint: do not trust what the Onion’s film critic says in the video shown below).

Meanwhile, Alfonso Cuarón, the mastermind behind the zero-gravity dark-space thriller, explains in full details about the secret recipes that makes Gravity so deeply intense and – not completely insane – completely heart-stopping.

Anybody unbeknownst about this film can check the excerpt here:

Academy Award® winners Sandra Bullock (“The Blind Side”) and George Clooney (“Syriana”) star in “Gravity,” a heart-pounding thriller that pulls you into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space. The film was directed by Oscar® nominee Alfonso Cuarón (“Children of Men”).

Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) in command. But on a seemingly routine mission, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalski completely alone—tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth…and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left.

But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.

 

 

And watch how The Onion’s film critic, Peter K. Rosenthal (he’s fictitious, for sure!), having been utterly depressed and critically insane, reviews this: