The Oscar-nominated documentary The Act of Killing tells the story of the gangster leaders who carried out anti-communist purges in Indonesia in 1965 to usher in the regime of Suharto. The film's hook, which makes it compelling and accessible, is that the filmmakers get Anwar -one of the death-squad leaders, who murdered around a thousand communists using a wire rope-and his acolytes to reenact the killings and events around them on film in a variety of genres of their choosing. In the film's most memorable sequence, Anwar-who is old now and actually really likable, a bit like Nelson Mandela, all soft and wrinkly with nice, fuzzy gray hair-for the purposes of a scene plays the role of a victim in one of the murders that he in real life carried out. A little way into it, he gets a bit tearful and distressed and, when discussing it with the filmmaker on camera in the next scene, reveals that he found the scene upsetting. The offcamera director asks the poignant question, 'What do you think your victims must've felt like?' and Anwar initially almost fails to see the connection. Eventually, when the bloody obvious correlation hits him, he thinks it unlikely that his victims were as upset as he was, because he was 'really' upset. The director, pressing the film's point home, says, 'Yeah but it must've been worse for them, because we were just pretending; for them it was real.' Evidently at this point the reality of the cruelty he has inflicted hits Anwar, because when they return to the concrete garden where the executions had taken place years before, he, on camera, begins to violently gag. This makes incredible viewing, as this literally visceral ejection of his self and sickness at his previous actions is a vivid catharsis. He gagged at what he'd done. After watching the film, I thought-as did probably everyone who saw it-how can people carry out violent murders by the thousand without it ever occurring to them that it is causing suffering? Surely someone with piano wire round their neck, being asphyxiated, must give off some recognizable signs? Like going 'ouch' or 'stop' or having blood come out of their throats while twitching and spluttering into perpetual slumber? What it must be is that in order to carry out that kind of brutal murder, you have to disengage with the empathetic aspect of your nature and cultivate an idea of the victim as different, inferior, and subhuman. The only way to understand how such inhumane behavior could be unthinkingly conducted is to look for comparable examples from our own lives. Our attitude to homelessness is apposite here. It isn't difficult to envisage a species like us, only slightly more evolved, being universally appalled by our acceptance of homelessness. 'What? You had sufficient housing, it cost less money to house them, and you just ignored the problem?' They'd be as astonished by our indifference as we are by the disconnected cruelty of Anwar.