Heroism and the pleasure and pain of mistranslation: the case of The Act of Killing

Ariel Heryanto

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This chapter explores the borderlines between heroism and its opposites in Indonesia. Its analysis of the documentary film The Act of Killing testifies to the fact that while Western and non-Western notions of the heroic are frequently intertwined, they can fundamentally differ with regard to what particular actions are to be defined as heroism. Just as importantly, ideas about heroism that are predominant in the West are adapted and translated in often unexpected ways in non-Western local settings. Heryanto’s case study about a documentary that allowed a group of Indonesian men to re-enact and re-imagine thousands of murders they had committed in the anti-communist climate of the 1960s exemplifies a peculiar clash of discursive ‘hero systems’ that appear to be incompatible because of the way that norms and values believed to be embodied by heroic figures have diverged after the Cold War. Non-Western traditions of heroism, misinterpretations of genocidal historical events, such as the Holocaust, and the tendency to neglect the boundaries between fact and fiction further contribute to the manifestation of Indonesian notions of the heroic that are considered utterly unheroic in the eyes of Western nations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHeroism as a Global Phenomenon in Contemporary Culture
EditorsBarbara Korte, Simon Wendt, Nicole Falkenhayner
Place of PublicationNew York NY USA
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9780429262784
ISBN (Print)9780367206659
Publication statusPublished - 26 Mar 2019

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Cultural History


  • Indonesia
  • Discursive practices
  • violence
  • film
  • Nazi
  • communism
  • Cold War
  • The Act of Killing

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