Recent brutal history is stamped over the countries of south-east Asia and you cannot visit Cambodia or Vietnam without encountering it in some way. Now incorporated into guided tours and trips, you can relive and learn about it whilst appreciating the impact it has made on the current state of that country. This kind of awareness is important when we travel just as it is important to not take advantage of these as tourist attractions.
In Indonesia however, the focus is not on historical re enactments but on yoga and partying. The locals are also widely renowned as some of the friendliest and most accommodating you will ever meet as a tourist. This doesn’t mean that the country is not affected by political upheaval of its own. Between 1965-1966 a series of mass killings were undertaken after a coup overthrew the then government.
In his award winning documentary ‘The Act of Killing’ and its follow up ‘The Look of Silence’ Joshua Oppenheimer revisits and recreates some of Indonesia’s more brutal past. With a blend of fantastical dreamlike sequences and brutal hard hitting documentary, Oppenheimer talks to both killer and victims of this horrific time. The films are incredibly raw and not an easy watch at all. Getting many of the members of the death squad hired for the killings to recreate their actions and reimagine them in theatrical style taken from their favourite film styles.
The film lays bare the actions of these men in raw and upsetting detail. It acknowledges the joint responsibility of not only those directly involved but the influence of both UK and US government. It is acutely draining and upsetting to watch but gives an unprecedented insight into the political past of this country and allows you to travel with a fuller appreciation for the complex history of a nation. Both films are essential viewing for anyone who wishes to learn a little bit about the history that lies behind paradise.