War, with its endless atrocities and chilling aftermath, has a way of revealing the very worst that people can do. Some of the most horrifying genocides that have been carried out throughout history, as well as in modern-day, have left us numb with sorrow and confusion as we try to comprehend the whys behind such heartless acts of hatred. Documentary filmmaking has proved a helpful tool in the process of navigating the complexities surrounding war and human nature. Some documentary films take a position while others remain strictly observational. Ultimately, however, documentary film has helped us as we approach war, both past and present, and its impact on individuals.
This week, we had the opportunity to watch two war documentaries Night and Fog and The Act of Killing. Both films explored the unfathomable realities of genocides that have marked their place in history. The films portray the impact of war in the past as well as today with commentary regarding how it has impacted the lives of those involved and humanity as a whole. As Erik Barnouw expresses in his book “Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film,” Night and Fog provided “a searing indictment” with its chilling juxtapositions of modern-day concentration camps with archival footage of the realities that happened there. This comparison gives “the film a greater impact than any other such film” has ever been able to depict (Barnouw 180). The stark juxtaposition is coupled with thoughtful narration that clearly states the filmmaker’s abhorrence with what has happened. The Act of Killing, on the other hand, takes a different approach in its exploration. Candidly exposing a number of individuals responsible for the heinous communist genocides in Indonesia in a seemingly un-filtered way, the film remarkably refrains from taking a clear position regarding the atrocities. As a result, it leaves the viewers feeling disgust and discomfort as they are left alone to grapple with what they’ve seen.
Both documentaries also explore how the genocides flourished in their day and the aftermath in the world today. With Night and Fog, the imagery for today was less harrowing because so much of what was depicted of today was mainly abandoned building structures. The Act of Killing, however, captured an ever-present sense of hostility among the Indonesian individuals responsible.
This comparison and commentary regarding war of the past and present has had an impact on me. As a religious human being who believes in the good of mankind, in an afterlife, in the eventual fulfillment of justice and mercy for all, and most significantly in a Savior who will carry out both, I have, in the very least, had an interesting experience as I’ve grappled with where I stand regarding these films. After some thinking, I’ve determined that my response is rather simple. I acknowledge the sorrow and pain I feel, and yet I choose to let it not immobilize me.
To see and read of such horrendous mentalities, actions, events, destruction, and war was an awful experience. I understand that hatred, apathy, anger, and revenge are prevalent in the world. We have lived in a world that has been this way since the very beginning. I won’t deny that. And yet I believe that there is an equal amount of good in the world. And I choose to put all of my focus there, embracing, elevating, and encouraging the beauty that comes from love. I believe that justice will be served where it is due. I sorrow for those who have been treated unjustly, for the numberless souls who have been victim to such horrifying, inhumane realities. And yet, as a spiritual viewer, my approach to these topics encompasses realities beyond this mortal life, beyond the horrors of today and the sorrows of the past. I look to a future where I know all will be well one day.
I am reminded of a lyric from musician Florence Welch in her song, “100 Years”. In this moving song, she sings, “I believe in love, and the darker it gets, the more I do. Try and fill us with your hate and we will shine a light.” This is the reaction I choose to adopt when approaching the darkness prevalent in the world. In my heart, I believe that in the end, God will carryout His will. He will assess the fate of every individual who has ever lived. He will determine it all. And so I leave it in His hands. I don’t need to carry a burden associated with the darkness of the world. As I navigate life with its ruins and rage, I choose to be rooted in this comfort and in love and hope. And that truly brings me immeasurable peace.
Photo Source: https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/c39e4163_7379_4df4_8365_9c64c6d5c39c.jpeg
Barnouw, Erik. Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Print.