The Unconscious is Structured like an Archive: “Epic” Politics and Postmodernity in Indonesian Cinema

Looking beyond an understanding of the modern world as mainly determined by the development of European and American capitalism, this article closely reads the popular 1970 Indonesian film Bernafas dalam Lumpur (Breathing in Mud, Tourino Djunaidy). The film is taken as an archival document of the absorption of global, and especially local stylistic and narrative modes into Indonesian cinema at a key historical moment: the period following the mass violence of 1965-66 during the rise of dictator Suharto. I argue that Bernafas and other contemporary Indonesian films anticipate the “postmodern” engagement with past events and dramatic forms that Fredric Jameson and other critics see inflecting American and European cinema, particularly after the mid 1970s. In the context of its production and reception post-1965, Bernafas’s “epic” sense of time and form has an uncanny, archival function, confronting audiences with spectres of the disturbing, senselessly violent events that had been sealed from public discussion or memorialization by the censorious policies of the emergent Suharto state.