The Beginning to the End: Changes of Perception in ‘The Act of Killing’ and ‘Gone Girl’

On the porch where he had previously murdered a rumoured 1000 people, Anwar Congo performs the cha-cha, a smile on his face and a spring in his step.  The former executioner from the 1965 Indonesian Massacres, is the subject of Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2012 documentary ‘The Act of Killing’ – a film that follows former executioners making a filmic representation of their executions.  On the other side of the spectrum (Ben Affleck’s) Nick Dunne strokes his wife Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) hair as she stares up into the camera. ‘What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What have we done to each other?’ he questions via a voiceover, unaware of the storm that is about to tear his life apart.  Both ‘The Act of Killing’ and ‘Gone Girl’ are very different films, they don’t share a genre or even a technical style of filmmaking.  They do however share one thing in common, a feature that I found to be the most engaging and thought-provoking aspect of each text – an almost identical sequence at both the start and the end of each of the films that causes us as an audience to realise how our perceptions of character has changed throughout the film.

With David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’ we are introduced to the marriage of the Dunne family.  During the opening sequence we are shown that the Dunne’s marriage might not be stable.  The colour pallet of this shot is very cold, darks and blues surround the majority of the frame as our eyes are drawn to Amy’s hair, and then to her pale white expressionless face.  We question what issues this marriage may face, but as Nick’s hand strokes Amy’s hair tenderly the audience are fooled into thinking that there is a considerable amount of affection remaining.  The final sequence, although shot almost identically with a close up of Amy’s face from Nick’s perspective, totally opposes the feeling from the first.  The colour pallet is much warmer, and Amy herself looks physically healthier, perhaps ironically considering Amy’s journey throughout the film.  The voiceover repeats the same questions from the beginning only adding, ‘what will we do?’ as Amy smiles at the camera.  Looking at the narrative of the film, the two sequences could almost be reversed to anchor the change of our perceptions throughout the film.  From the start, we can tell the marriage has issues, but it feels much safer than the end. Amy’s smile suggests that she has got what she wanted, and trapped her husband into living a loveless marriage – a totally different reading from a very similar sequence.

This change in our perceptions of character is very similar in the ‘Act of Killing’.  When we are initially introduced to Anwar Congo, he talks us through his process of execution, his initial bludgeoning of his victims to his method of wire choking.  He dances and sings, the bright sun and his luminous green shirt juxtaposing the seriousness of the location where his bloodied victims once lay.  While watching I was overcome by a seriously uneasy feeling.  The film is very difficult to watch, and right from this early sequence we are given a perception of the kind of man Congo is – heartless, violent and dangerous.  By the end of the film we are offered a different side to Congo, one that causes the audience to have some pity for him.  Congo returns to the rooftop in a very similar sequence.  It is now night-time, his beige suit blends him into the background light, showing how he finally understands the past of the location he is in.  This time when he starts to talk about his killings he says ‘I know it was wrong’ as he begins to violently cough and then throw up.  The scene is then plunged into a silence that will continue through the end credits.  The thought that his actions make him physically sick does offer an empathetic view of Congo.  We finally feel as if he understands the consequences of his actions.  Klawan argues that this sequence ‘does something that nobody on Earth needs to do: it expresses pity for Anwar Congo.’ (Klawans, 2013, p33) and even though you may not like expressing it, by contrasting the similarities between the final and the initial sequence, the film draws out a feeling of pity from you, you hope he has truly come to realise how awful his crimes are.

Through these examples we can see the true beauty of cinema being expressed, the ability of a film to totally change your mind-set, and even more effectively by contrasting very similar sequences at the beginning and the end.



Works Cited:

KLAWANS, S., 2013., The Executioner’s Song, In: Film Comment. Volume 49, July – August.

“Gone Girl”, David Fincher, 2014

“The Act of Killing: Director’s Cut”, 2012




Neil McLeod, 2016



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