‘The East’ Shows Why Indonesia’s War of Independence Is a Bridge Between WWII and Vietnam

Martijn Lakemeyer The East
Martijn Lakemeyer stars in "The East." (photo by Milan Van Dril/Magnet Releasing)

A new movie suggests the architects of the Vietnam War would have done well to study the Dutch military's role in the late 1940's Indonesian National Revolution that established the region's independence from the Dutch Empire.

"The East" was written and directed by Jim Taihuttu, the great-grandson of an indigenous Moluccan who died fighting for the Dutch army during the conflict, which lasted from 1945 to 1949. It's an intense look at the extreme and historically controversial measures the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL) used as it tried to put down the rebellion.

The movie is scheduled for release in theaters and on all digital VOD platforms on August 12, 2021. We've got a look at the trailer.

Johan de Vries (played by Martijn Lakemeier) is a young Dutch soldier deployed to Indonesia with an elite unit tasked with putting down the rebellion. His captain (Marwan Kenzari) is known to his men as "the Turk" and demands that his soldiers use brutal methods to accomplish their objectives. You know, the kind of methods history shows turn otherwise neutral villagers into fully committed rebels.

The movie has caused controversy in the Netherlands and the Dutch community in Indonesia. The "Federatie Indische Nederlanders (FIN)" or Federation of Indo Dutch filed a lawsuit against the filmmakers claiming that the movie's depiction of Dutch military brutality has no basis in fact.

The lawsuit demanded that a disclaimer be added at the movie's beginning stating that it was a work of fiction. The courts disagreed. There was already the standard "any similarity to persons living or dead is unintentional" language in the end credits and the courts ruled that movie has enough basis in actual history that any further disclaimer is unnecessary.

The military action in Indonesia is a painful chapter in the Netherlands' history and "The East" brought this nearly-forgotten era back into the nation's consciousness when it was released there last year.

The movie was filmed in Indonesia and, even though it's set in the late 1940s, looks a lot like a Vietnam War movie. The Dutch eventually gave up and ceded the nation's independence and the lessons they learned could have been on full display for the American commanders in Vietnam or Soviet commanders in Afghanistan.

"The East" has wildly divergent online reviews, but the negative ones are mostly from viewers who claim the movie's portrayal of incendiary military tactics is historically inaccurate. Did the director metaphorically amp up some incidents to make for a dynamic movie? Possibly, but that would give "The East" something in common with "Apocalypse Now." We can see for ourselves when it gets a U.S. release next month.

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