August 9, 2021

The East: Revealing Two Sides of War

Have you ever been able to tell your family about the experience of war in its entirety? This is a very difficult question to answer when it comes to a soldier's mind.

Film The East (De Oost in Dutch), this is a handful of a series of fictional war genre films that try to reveal the other side of a war. The inner struggle of Johan De Vries, a young soldier from the Netherlands who was sent to quell anti-guerrilla forces in Celebes (South Sulawesi).

The first fictional film that raises the figure of Raymond Westerling, the leader of the Dutch Military Special Unit Depot Speciale Troepen (DST) which is recorded in Indonesian history with the Westerling Massacre, although it has drawn a lot of criticism, at least we are not flooded with shots which only end with the sad screams of innocent commoners. Through this film, the audience will open their eyes, and see another side of human values.

Sander Verdonk, one of the producers of this film, said that although the story told in this film is fictional, what happened in the real world is so tragic. According to him, there is very little fiction. That means, this film has the courage to reveal the gray side of Westerling's historical journey which is also taught in schools in Indonesia, although not in detail.

Perhaps, a film that is enjoyable to watch in terms of plot (plot), far from this long-winded impression can be a mirror, to look back all the way back. For the history of Indonesia, as well as the Netherlands itself. Apart from Sander, the five producers involved in the production of this Indonesian-Dutch collaboration are Benoit Roland, Shanty Harmayn, Jim Taihuttu, and Julius Ponten.

This two-hour film, which takes place around the years 1946-1947, was directed by Jim Taihuttu, a Dutch man of Maluku descent. This historical film, which premiered in the Netherlands in May 2021, opens a perspective for all of us on how to see a war, a piece of history, objectively and not from a one-sided perspective.

Governments, historians, or even the perpetrators of history itself. Through The East, we can re-enter the open space of debate, such as the number of victims of the massacre in that period of the year. Is it true that as claimed by President Sukarno, there were 40,000 people, or the Dutch version, which had around 3,000 people? At least, by following in the footsteps of the meeting and end of the feud that occurred between the protagonist Johan De Vries (played by Martijn Lakemeier) and Raymond Westerling (played by Marwan
Kenzari), we learn about the two sides of the war.

The synopsis for The East begins with the arrival of Dutch volunteer soldiers in Java. One of them is Johan De Vries. Johan, the protagonist is placed in Semarang. In the first three months, he hardly encountered any commotions or reports of enemy attacks on the villages as described.

One day, Johan meets Raymond, who is better known as The Turk (later known as Raymond Westerling). Johan who began to see 'odds' or values, as not in line with the mission
his departure from the Netherlands, namely to help and create peace, began to be attracted to the figure of Raymond who seemed brave, and as he himself admitted, was nicknamed Ratu Adil.

Johan also sympathizes and follows in the footsteps of Raymond, the antagonist. Johan's inner struggle seems to have been answered by joining the Dutch Military Special Unit Depot Speciale Troepen (DST) under the command of Raymond.

One day, Raymond ordered his troops to depart and get the task of destroying the rioters, aka terrorists in Celebes (South Sulawesi). Faithful Johan rushed. Inner struggles began to emerge when their troops pushed into the village after village.

Armed with only a list of names of people suspected of being the rioters, in front of the villagers who were gathered in the field, in front of their children and wives, Raymond executed the men without being asked first.

Armed with only name recognition, live bullets hit them mercilessly. Victims fell one by one, I don't know how many mass graves filled every village.

One day, it was Johan's turn to execute him. Then, with courage in the name of humanity and truth, he questioned Raymond's actions, which according to him were no longer in line with the mission they shared together.

Killing without trying the truth is like killing in vain. Johan De Vries, who was originally Raymond's trusted man, was considered a traitor and decided to separate. The seeds of enmity are inevitable, and emotionally draining scenes occur between the two. In a different world. No longer in the arena of real war.

Through the dramatic ending of The East, we will think again about love, betrayal, and war. And historical truth, again.

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