This follow up, companion piece to The Act of Killing is just as difficult to watch as the original installment, if not more so. That’s not to say the film isn’t fantastic in it’s ability to confront human emotion and what we expect of humanity in a striking tone; it is. But watching people discuss in detail how they murdered people, often involving reenactments of where they would stab them, and laugh about it… well, it hasn’t gotten easier since we saw The Act of Killing.
Left and right, we see people proud of either conducting the genocide themselves or proud of their family members (often their fathers) who were part of the genocide. They talk about drinking the blood of their victims to “avoid going crazy.” Then, when confronted with the reality that they killed the man sitting before them’s brother, they often backpedal - no, they weren’t the ones calling the shots, they were just following orders. They regret what happened - or, if they’re children of the perpetrators, they’re proud of their father’s actions and then all of a sudden have memory loss about the whole event. “We don’t know what you’re talking about” and “We knew none of this” are common phrases used to relieve their moral responsibility to care about the events or apologize to the man in front of them.
It is endlessly amazing how resilient the man is, often interviewing the genocide perpetrators while fitting them for glasses; the symbolism behind how they see the world is almost staggering. He hears his mother calling for his dead brother as she cares for his nearly blind and deaf father, and she tells him directly that she bore him to replace his dead brother. This documentary is not for the faint of heart; it truly takes something to stay in your chair. Respect for what happened, maybe? Being too horrified to move? I don’t know. But my brow spent hours being furrowed, and every time I think about this film it returns to that state.
Still, it’s worthwhile. It’s terrifying how much moral responsibility these people can put off or be numb to; but they’re being confronted with their actions, and it makes some uncomfortable but some are just as crazy as they likely were decades ago. You will be left in your seat wondering how this place in the world could possibly exist, and how we could possibly avoid a recreation of its fate.