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“A Documentary of the Imagination” The Use of Reenactments in The Act of Killing


  • Ana Paula Perez Cordova

Summary, in English

This thesis will provide a formal analysis of Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act of Killing (2012), by analyzing the different stylistic techniques used in the reenactments such as the cinematography, editing, sound and mise-en-scène, and by analyzing the ways in which these documentary techniques affected the film and the people who committed the crimes. This research also reflects the way in which reviewers all over the world have related to and received this film.

Through different reenactments and a unique filming method, Oppenheimer challenges the executioners of one of the worst world genocides, the massacres of Indonesia in 1965, to recreate their crimes in any ways they wanted to. Indonesia’s government has built a regime of terror founded on the celebration of genocide. The perpetrators were never punished; on the contrary, they are celebrated as heroes and still remain in power. The reenactments in the film became a prison from which the perpetrators could not escape, a mirror that forced both the perpetrators and spectators to see themselves.

This thesis will open a discussion about the way reenactments challenge all viewers and on how these documentary techniques can make perpetrators conscious about their crimes. Through documentary history it is possible to see the evolution of the use of reenactments as a documentary technique, from early documentary films through the development of the digital world. The use of reenactments has become one of the leading hybrid forms in documentary. In this context, The Act of Killing (2012) opens the possibility of finding a new approach for exploring and evolving the documentary genre and it contributes to further research about reenactment as a technique in documentary film. Therefore, this analysis tries to reveal how this space was stylistically structured and performed. The study of these topics will be analyzed and contextualized with Bill Nichols’ theory on documentary modes and other relevant theoretical works, as well as with reviews and articles written about the film.







Examensarbete för masterexamen (Två år)


  • Languages and Literatures


  • sound and mise-en-scène
  • editing
  • Reenactment
  • documentary
  • film
  • The Act of Killing
  • Joshua Oppenheimer
  • cinematography


  • Mats Jönsson (Associate Professor)