The Act of Killing: An occasion to discuss the ‘banality of evil’ and cinema | Intellect Skip to content
1981
Volume 13, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 1757-1952
  • E-ISSN: 1757-1960

Abstract

In this article I discuss T. Wartenberg’s claim that the film , which has as protagonists and quasi co-authors perpetrators of the 1965–66 Indonesian massacre, ‘confirms’ and ‘supplements’ Arendt’s ‘banality of evil’ thesis. I argue for a more moderate version of the first part of this claim and expand upon the second. Thus, I suggest that the film gives us clues to articulate Arendt’s thesis with theories of alienation, hence also with Marxist theorizing. Central here is the idea that deficient sensibility, which, according to Wartenberg’s claim, supplements Arendt’s idea of ‘thoughtlessness’, is related to an alienating process within which cinema plays a prominent role. Thus, my argument revolves around the premise that in the film the question of mass evil-doing is intertwined with positing its own medium as an object of reflection, revealing cinema as carrying a contradictory potential. The critical upholding of Arendt’s thesis that the film enables also concerns the relationship of ‘banality’ to ideological motivation, a rather problematic issue in Arendt’s thesis. The film, I argue, suggests that ‘banality’ does not necessarily exclude ideological zealotry.

Loading

Article metrics loading...

/content/journals/10.1386/ejpc_00046_1
2022-12-23
2024-05-27
Loading full text...

Full text loading...

References

  1. Adorno, W. Theodor. ( [1970] 1997), Aesthetic Theory (trans. R. Hullot-Kentor.), Minneapolis, MN:: University of Minnesota Press;.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Anderson, Benedict. ( 2013;), ‘ Impunity and reenactment: Reflections on the 1965 massacre in Indonesia and its legacy. ’, The Asia-Pacific Journal, 11:15, pp. 116, https://apjjf.org/2013/11/15/Benedict-Anderson/3929/article.html. Accessed 5 June 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  3. Arendt, Hannah. ( [1963] 1965), Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, New York:: Viking Press;.
    [Google Scholar]
  4. Arendt, Hannah. ( 1971;), ‘ Thinking and moral considerations: A lecture. ’, Social Research, 38:3, pp. 41746.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Arendt, Hannah. ( 1978), The Life of the Mind, New York and London:: Harvest;.
    [Google Scholar]
  6. Arendt, Hannah. ( 1979;), ‘ On Hannah Arendt. ’, in M. A. Hill. (ed.), Hannah Arendt: The Recovery of the Public World, New York:: St Martin’s Press;, pp. 30139.
    [Google Scholar]
  7. Arendt, Hannah. ( 2003;), ‘ Personal responsibility under dictatorship. ’, in J. Kohn. (ed.), Responsibility and Judgement, New York:: Schocken Books;, pp. 1748.
    [Google Scholar]
  8. Arendt, Hannah. ( 2007), The Jewish Writings (eds J. Kohn, and R. H. Feldman.), New York:: Schocken;.
    [Google Scholar]
  9. Assy, Bethania. ( 1998;), ‘ Eichmann, the banality of evil, and thinking in Arendt’s thought. ’, The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, 6, pp. 716, https://doi.org/10.5840/wcp20-paideia19986128. Accessed 2 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  10. Baer, Ulrich. ( 2001–02;), ‘ The de-demonization of evil. ’, Cabinet, 5, winter, https://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/5/baer.php. Accessed 3 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  11. Benhabib, Seyla. ( 2014;), ‘ Who’s on trial, Eichmann or Arendt?. ’, New York Times, 21 September, https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/21/whos-on-trial-eichmann-or-anrendt/. Accessed 15 June 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Bernstein, Richard J.. ( 1996), Hannah Arendt and the Jewish Question, Cambridge, MA and London:: The MIT Press;.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Bernstein, Richard J.. ( 2010;), ‘ Are Arendt’s reflections on evil still relevant?. ’, in S. Benhabib. (ed.), Politics in Dark Times: Encounters with Hannah Arendt, Cambridge:: Cambridge University Press;, pp. 293305.
    [Google Scholar]
  14. Buck-Morss, Susan. ( 1977), The Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin and the Frankfurt Institute, New York and London:: The Free Press;.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. Buck-Morss, Susan. ( 1989), The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, Cambridge, MA and London:: The MIT Press;.
    [Google Scholar]
  16. Busk, Larry. ( 2015;), ‘ Sleepwalker: Arendt, thoughtlessness, and the question of little Eichmanns. ’, Social Philosophy Today, 31, pp. 5369.
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Cotkin, George. ( 2007;), ‘ Illuminating evil: Hannah Arendt and moral history. ’, Modern Intellectual History, 4:3, pp. 46390, https://doi.org/10.1017/S1479244307001357. Accessed 23 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  18. Cribb, Robert. ( 2014;), ‘ The Act of Killing. ’, Critical Asian Studies, 46:1, pp. 14749, https://doi.org/10.1080/14672715.2014.867621. Accessed 10 June 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Demaria, Cristina, and Violi, Patrizia. ( 2020;), ‘ The act of documenting: Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing. ’, Media, War & Conflict, 13:1, pp. 88104, https://doi.org/10.1177/1750635219871910. Accessed 8 August 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  20. Garduño Comparán, Carlos Alfonso. ( 2014;), ‘ Arendt and Ricœur on ideology and authority. ’, Études Ricœuriennes/Ricœur Studies, 5:2, pp. 6480, https://ricoeur.pitt.edu/ojs/index.php/ricoeur/article/view/252/131. Accessed 15 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  21. Godmilow, Jill. ( 2014;), ‘ Killing the documentary: An Oscar-nominated filmmaker takes issue with The Act of Killing. ’, Indiewire , 5 March, https://www.indiewire.com/2014/03/killing-the-documentary-an-oscar-nominated-filmmaker-takes-issue-with-the-act-of-killing-29332. Accessed 24 July 2021.
  22. Hayden, Patrick. ( 2010;), ‘ The relevance of Hannah Arendt’s reflections on evil: Globalization and rightlessness. ’, Human Rights Review, 11, pp. 45167, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12142-010-0157-8. Accessed 10 August 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Hernández, Bruno Hachero. ( 2017;), ‘ Fabulation and performance of the killer in Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentaries. ’, L’ Atalante: Revista de Estudios Cinematográphicos, 23, January–June, pp. 15970, http://www.revistaatalante.com/index.php?journal=atalante&page=article&op=viewFile&path[]=384&path[]=391. Accessed 20 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. Heryanto, Ariel. ( 2014;), ‘ Great and misplaced expectations. ’, Critical Asian Studies, 46:1, pp. 16266, https://doi.org/10.1080/14672715.2014.863584. Accessed 10 June 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  25. Jovanovics, Nenad. ( 2017;), ‘ Reflexivity as dialecticity: The Brechtian documentary. ’, TRAVERSES, 1, December, https://www.film-documentaire-ecrits.fr/traverse1-reflexivity. Accessed 25 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  26. Lederman, Shmuel. ( 2019;), ‘ The radicalism of the banality of evil: Ideology and political conformity in Arendt. ’, New German Critique, 46:2, pp. 197220, https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-7546248. Accessed 25 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. Lefort, Claude. ( 2002;), ‘ Thinking with and against Hannah Arendt. ’, Social Research, 69:2, pp. 44759, https://www.jstor.org/stable/40971557. Accessed 28 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  28. McAlinden, Carrie. ( 2013;), ‘ True surrealism: Walter Benjamin and The Act of Killing. ’, Sight and Sound, 29 November, https://www2.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/features/true-surrealism-walter-benjamin-act-killing. Accessed 25 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  29. Mohamed, Saira. ( 2015;), ‘ Of monsters and men: Perpetrator trauma and mass atrocity. ’, Columbia Law Review, 115:5, pp. 1157216, https://www.jstor.org/stable/43582425. Accessed 25 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  30. Nagib, Lucia. ( 2020), Realist Cinema as World Cinema: Non-Cinema, Intermedial Passages, Total Cinema, Amsterdam:: Amsterdam University Press;, https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1b0fvq4. Accessed 15 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  31. Neiman, Susan. ( 2010;), ‘ Banality reconsidered. ’, in S. Benhabib. (ed.), Politics in Dark Times: Encounters with Hannah Arendt, Cambridge:: Cambridge University Press;, pp. 30516.
    [Google Scholar]
  32. Oppenheimer, Joshua. ( 2012), The Act of Killing, Denmark:: Copenhagen Studios;.
    [Google Scholar]
  33. Oppenheimer, Joshua. ( 2013a;), ‘ Director’s statement. ’, http://theactofkilling.com/statements. Accessed 25 July 2021.
  34. Oppenheimer, Joshua. ( 2013b), interviewed by N. Bradshaw , ‘ Build my gallows high: Joshua Oppenheimer on The Act of Killing: Outing untold genocide, and the miasmic horror that binds us. ’, Sight and Sound, https://www2.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/interviews/build-my-gallows-high-joshua-oppenheimer-act-killing. Accessed 24 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  35. Oppenheimer, Joshua. ( 2014a), interviewed by L. Goodshell , ‘ Interview: Oscar-nominated Act of Killing director on the humanity of evil. ’, Rotten Tomatoes , 17 January, https://editorial.rottentomatoes.com/article/interview-oscarnominated-act-of-killing-director-on-the-humanity-of-evil. Accessed 2 June 2021.
  36. Oppenheimer, Joshua. ( 2014b;), ‘ The Act of Killing: Film update. ’, Pov , 6 October, http://archive.pov.org/theactofkilling/film-update. Accessed 1 June 2021.
  37. Oppenheimer, Joshua. ( 2015), interviewed by S. O’Hagan , ‘ Joshua Oppenheimer: Why I returned to Indonesia’s killing fields. ’, The Guardian, 7 June, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jun/07/joshua-oppenheimer-the-look-of-silence-interview-indonesia. Accessed 2 June 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  38. Philpott, Simon. ( 2017;), ‘ Performing mass murder: Constructing the perpetrator in documentary film. ’, International Political Sociology, 11:3 pp. 25772, https://doi.org/10.1093/ips/olx011. Accessed 24 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  39. Roosa, John. ( 2016;), ‘ The state of knowledge about an open secret: Indonesia’s mass disappearances of 1965–66. ’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 75:2, pp. 28197, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021911816000474. Accessed 2 June 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  40. Schönfelder, Anna-Sophie. ( 2018;), ‘ Politics contra the functionalisation of man: Hannah Arendt’s problematic investigation of ideology and labour. ’, Zeitschrift für kritische Sozialtheorie und Philosophie, 5:2, pp. 33869, https://doi.org/10.1515/zksp-2018-0018. Accessed 2 August 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  41. Sutopo, Oki Rahadianto. ( 2017;), ‘ The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence: A critical reflection. ’, Crime Media Culture, 13:4, pp. 19, https://doi.org/10.1177/1741659017690564. Accessed 4 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  42. van Liere, Lucien. ( 2018;), ‘ The banality of ghosts: Searching for humanity with Joshua Oppenheimer in The Act of Killing. ’, Journal for Religion, Film and Media, 4:1, pp. 1534, https://doi.org/10.25364/05.4:2018.1.2. Accessed 5 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  43. Wartenberg, Thomas. ( 2017;), ‘ Providing evidence for a philosophical claim: The Act of Killing and the banality of evil. ’, NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies, 6:2, pp. 7390, https://mediarep.org/bitstream/handle/doc/4170/NECSUS_2017_6_2_73-90_Wartenberg_The_Act_of_Killing_.pdf?sequence=6&isAllowed=y. Accessed 5 May 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  44. Wolin, Richard. ( 2014;), ‘ The banality of evil: The demise of a legend. ’, The Jewish Review of Books, 4 September, pp. 2832.
    [Google Scholar]
  45. Žižek, Slavoj. ( 2013;), ‘ The Act of Killing and the modern trend of “privatising public space”. ’, New Statesman, 12 July, https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2013/07/slavoj-zizek-act-killing-and-modern-trend-privatising-public-space. Accessed 20 July 2021.
    [Google Scholar]
  46. Mitsopoulou, Chryssoula. ( 2022;), ‘ The Act of Killing: An occasion to discuss the “banality of evil” and cinema. ’, Empedocles: European Journal for the Philosophy of Communication, 13:2, pp. 13551, https://doi.org/10.1386/ejpc_00046_1
    [Google Scholar]
http://instance.metastore.ingenta.com/content/journals/10.1386/ejpc_00046_1
Loading
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a success
Invalid data
An error occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error