Posted by: Stef Kienstra | February 27, 2010

Review: ‘Enemies of the People’

The fields are cracked and dry, the dust only settling in pools of murky standing water where speck-sized bugs hum and jump erratically. Underneath these plains spotted with the occasional sprouting green lies a bed of stories and massacred people whose stories have been buried underneath the surface, waiting to be told.

“Enemies of the People: One Man’s Journey to the Heart of the Killing Fields” is a passionate, revealing, heart-wrenching film that digs deep into what lies underneath the Killing Fields of Cambodia. It gives an in-depth perspective of the massacres ran by the Khmer Rouge regime, one of the most brutal regimes of our time.

The movie penetrates the deepest levels of human connection. By questioning who was behind the killings and why the killings occurred, Cambodian journalist Thet Sambath captured firsthand accounts of the murders by talking to those who were involved. By asking why the killings occurred, Sambath was able to reveal the true man behind the murders.

Throughout the course of the movie, we learn that Sambath was personally affected by these killings. He is one of the last remaining members of his family due to these brutal attacks, and this personal drive brings him to a place where he is relentless in finding answers.

He spends nearly a decade investigating the history of these attacks and speaking to those who witnessed and were a part of the killings, and this is captured in case-study-style clips throughout the documentary. There are no questions held back, no judgments made and no accusations. There is just introspection, vivid storytelling and recollection.

The leader of the killings (consequently, the leaders of the Khmer Rouge) are known as “Brother Number Two” and “Pol Pot.” In the climax of the documentary, Sambath is able to convince “Brother Number Two” to admit his responsibility for the killings and how these leaders decided who were the true “Enemies of the People.” It is clear that there are conflicting views about who the true “enemies” are in the film.

From a historical standpoint, Sambath is able to find and trace the orders of the political leaders as they filter all the way down to the killings in the fields. He does this through investigations of the political leaders, those who actually performed the acts of killing and those who were affected by the horrible and terrifying situation.

In the film, Sambath does not simply tell what it is like to grow up alone, without a family, as a result of these deadly political orders. Rather, he lets others tell the story. He sews a web of interconnected people who were affected by the killings from every perspective, and lets these people tell the story, one by one.

There is a small amount of resolution when we learn that the rulers of the Khmer Rouge have a trial this year, sometime in 2010. Will justice be served?

Sambath forces you to consider this question of justice. What happened here? And how do we prevent it from happening in the future? He also makes us think about the fate of these political leaders, letting our minds wander … should this be an “eye for an eye” type of revenge?

As the viewer, I want the political leaders to suffer just like they made the innocent people suffer. However, I stop myself. I realize that thinking this disregards the entire point of the film. Sambath wants us to look around and solve our own mysteries while protecting ourselves and our heritage.

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