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Regurgitated bodies: presenting and representing trauma in 'The Act of Killing'

Nagib, L. (2016) Regurgitated bodies: presenting and representing trauma in 'The Act of Killing'. In: Tzioumakis, Y. and Molloy, C. (eds.) The Routledge Companion to Film & Politics. Routledge, Abingdon, pp. 218-230. ISBN 9780415717397

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Abstract/Summary

Focusing on The Act of Killing, this chapter examines how an “ethics of realism” operates on three key cinematic arenas: genre, authorship and spectatorship. As far as genre is concerned, the film’s realist commitment emerges from where it is least expected, namely from Hollywood genres, such as the musical, the film noir and the western, which are used as documentary, that is to say, as a fantasy realm where perpetrators can confess to their crimes without restraints or fear of punishment, but which nonetheless retains the evidentiary weight of the audiovisual medium. Authorship, in turn, translates as Oppenheimer’s unmistakable auteur signature through his role of self-confessed “infiltrator” who disguises as a sympathiser of the criminals in order to gain first-hand access to the full picture of their acts. One of them, the protagonist Anwar Congo, is clearly affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, and his repetitive reliving of his killings is made to flare up in front of the camera so as to bring back the dead to the present time in their material reality, through his own body, including a harrowing scene of the actor’s unpredictable and uncontrollable retching as he re-enacts the killing of his victims through strangulation. Finally, in the realm of spectatorship, the usual process of illusionistic identification on the part of the spectator is turned onto its head by means of disguising these criminals as amateur filmmakers, led to shoot, act within, and then watch their own film within the film so as to force them to experience beyond any illusion the suffering they had caused.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:47629
Uncontrolled Keywords:The Act of Killing; Documentary; Film genre; Film authorship; Film spectatorship; Cinematic realism; Political cinema
Publisher:Routledge

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