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TAGS: Arts; Cinema; Ethics; Evil (general); Film; Forgiveness; Genocide; Justice (general); War (general)
LOCATIONS: Indonesia
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The theology of evil throughout history and in Bahá'í thought; ways in which people de-humanize and become alienated from their own selves; on forgiveness and merciful love in the face of justice and punishment.
Thesis for the degree of MA in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Nottingham. Read about the movie, "a documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish," at

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The Humanity of Evil:
Bahá'í Reflections on the film The Act of Killing

by Bernardo Bortolin Kerr

Abstract: This paper is a theological study of evil and the treatment of evil, approaching the subject through an exploration of the 2012 documentary The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, and the scriptures of the Bahá’í Faith. Throughout the paper I draw on the already vast quantity of text written in response to the film, including numerous interviews, articles and essays. I also draw on the texts of various key thinkers, such as Paulo Freire, Paul Ricoeur and Stanley Cavell, among others. I begin the paper by looking at the part evil plays in a Bahá’í theological, or spiritual, anthropology, referring also to the theory of evil exposed in Pseudo-Dionysius’ The Divine Names and drawing on the many illuminating comments on evil made by Oppenheimer himself. From this section I move on to a study of the ways in which the human is dehumanised by acts of evil, most of all the perpetrator, who dehumanises himself by the mere intention of harming another. I particularly focus on the ways in which the characters in the film demonstrate a disordered sense of value. In the next section I examine the way in which the very approach of the film, which centres on the perpetrators re-enacting their crimes, leads to them recognising their alienation from their own humanity, from their own selves, reflected in the fantasy of their narratives of justification. I then explore how, as the audience, we must in turn see ourselves reflected in the characters on the screen if we are to overcome, both in ourselves and in others, the dehumanisation, and its perpetuation, that we might suffer in even our most seemingly inconsequential acts of evil. Finally, I conclude with a section on forgiveness, in which I suggest an approach to forgiveness that, using the “mirroring” effect of the film, neither merely forgets nor clings to blame, instead seeking a merciful love that is itself the most just punishment.
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