The Borderline Conclusion
As a text about the post-war era and social criticism, After the Curfew is one of the “moment of bliss” films. It does not only rely on references to the director with his political affiliation. However, people remembered Usmar Ismail’s name not only as a director with themes around the physical revolution and cultural turmoil of the 1960s.
As a reference line to lead to an empty conclusion, the beginning of the sharpening of political polarization influenced Ismail’s first three films. In contrast, the context should not confine the text to hard facts from the past, talk about good works of art, and always speak in the context of a different era.
The Physical Revolution
In 1952, the tanks were directed to the State Palace. This incident was one of the crucial moments in civil-military relations in his era. Abdul Haris Nasution and T. B. Simatupang are the two highest TNI leaders. They both demanded a restructuring in which, in their plan, only soldiers with a Dutch military education background could enter the structure. The former PETA soldiers and the Laskar will be eliminated.
On the other hand, the plan failed by the DPR’s intervention until the October 1952 affair to remind civilians not to tamper with the military structure itself. History records it as a failed coup in which Nasution and Simatupang were eliminated. However, the military is getting stronger in its position. Other references to civil-military conflicts are, of course, claims by both parties about who has the right to hold political leadership. This affair continued until the peak of the Physical Revolution period.
Apart from the civil-military issues and moment of bliss in After the Curfew related to leadership claims, Iskandar’s story leads to different readings of these issues. Iskandar is a former fighter who was haunted by guilt when he was still a soldier. Apart from Iskandar, one of the themes of this film concerns the emergence of new classes after the Physical Revolution, namely the bureaucracy and the military. It is an unambiguous class representation.
Iskandar and the Case of Representation
Iskandar, an engineering student who went to war, belongs to the middle class of the colonial era. Iskandar’s girlfriend’s family is a family of bureaucrats who like to hold weekend parties all night long. The audience witnessed two former soldiers who, after the war, took over at the helm of a state company. Apart from that, Puja, Iskandar’s comrade, is now a gambler and a pimp.
In contrast to the period of the Physical Revolution itself, much changed the configuration of social classes in Indonesia; in the general scheme of the revolution, Indonesia occupies a unique position. Since the absence of the bourgeoisie in the national struggle differs from similar revolutions in other countries, there is no solid national bourgeoisie to support the post-revolutionary development projects.
In 1950, most companies in Indonesia were owned by the Dutch. Meanwhile, the non-Dutch elite tended to be engaged in trading. Since this condition required the state to nationalize Dutch companies, it was supported by most political parties and the military.
Military support for the nationalization of foreign companies is, in relation, an act of occupying local plantation business and political positions. The steps were then taken by the state and anticipated much in advance by the armed forces. While the structure has become more established since the end of the Dutch colonial period, another elite group is sitting in the ranks of the bureaucracy.
Meanwhile, their existence was urgently needed to establish the legality of the republic in the eyes of the world during the Physical Revolution. In contrast to the Dutch elite, targeted by the masses from 1945 to 1946, their position was relatively undisturbed. While the crew of the bureaucracy, there are many state enterprises under the control of the military. It has become a separate business area until it swelled during the New Order era.
Establishing the Bourgeoisie
In After the Curfew, the bourgeoisie is not outside the state apparatus as the moment of bliss. But, it has existed since the beginning of the republic’s establishment within the bureaucracy. Class relations can be understood as far as the two elite classes give birth to their respective pariahs. Some volunteers have to return to society to civilian soldiers who return to the black world. Iskandar would not have gotten a job if his girlfriend’s family were not bureaucrats.
Meanwhile, the second job he immediately dismissed came from Gunawan, his former commander, who now serves as director. During the war, Gunawan had ordered him to execute a family suspected of being a spy. Of course, Iskandar was guaranteed by his pre-war college status. His fate would not have differed much from that of Puja without status and social networks.
Through the characters of Iskandar and Puja, Usmar Ismail puts the critical dimension. Iskandar is a middle class who failed to identify with his class. Puja is a discarded warrior figure and becomes the perfect prototype of all pragmatics. Puja, in After the Curfew, is a comparison to Gunawan’s position. In short, there are only two kinds of life that await a veteran after the war is over. Rich or poor for harsh but realistic language. Determined by military rank during the war, it is not surprising that the stigma of “veterans become bandits or live in prosperity” still persists not only in Indonesia.
Between the Insiders and the Outsiders
For Iskandar, the status of “insiders” is inevitable. On his first day on the job, his coworkers teased him with “veterans.” He feels similar to the get-rich-quick Gunawan with a reputation for war. Apart from the disgust to see his former commander using revolutionary rhetoric, two rejected elite circles, Iskandar always gathered at his lover’s house. In an all-night party, attended by the girls’ favorite socialites and revolutionary heroes, the intimate long honeymoon between the military and the bureaucracy is not a picture.
It finished the civil-military strife by reading the clichés of “historical grudges” with moment of bliss without reading the class relations behind After the Curfew character stories. Who is worthy of holding government power? Are those who diplomacy or those who take up arms the people? Should it be idealistic or realistic? Without reading this political economy context, Iskandar’s expression of disappointment will only appear as an ordinary moral critique born of pessimistic thinking in the local context.
The Legalistic Criticism of Political Conditions
Apart from being a legalistic-liberal critique that attacks corruption and other abuses of power, it is also a question of the origin and operation itself. Simplicity is also too simple to describe and undoubtedly full of paradoxes and dilemmas.
In the 1950s, the relationship between social classes was an issue that was absent from propaganda films with the theme of “returning to society,” which was very prevalent. If the political frame drags on class antagonisms, there are so many moment of bliss in After the Curfew. How the dynamics of the revolution determine social and political conditions?
How the new government had to confront various kinds of problems emerged as excesses of revolutionary violence and remnants of colonialism. Today, people ask a lot of questions after watching this movie. One of which is “why corruption was born with the republic and continues to last structurally until now?”
The New Order
What happened during the 1950s is the closest mirror of what happened during the republic’s founding five years earlier. Not surprisingly, there have been almost no films about Indonesia after the physical revolution since the New Order. A process through which they can identify themselves as a nation is like a child in a traumatic phase.
The Physical Revolution was a coherent and civilized process in New Order cinema and after it. Between the two camps, there is no other. Except, they were sympathetic Dutch journalists, native spies, or rebels against Republican forces. The government reduced the task of the revolution to an attempt to expel the Dutch who wanted to re-enter after the proclamation of independence.
After the Curfew shows otherwise where the Physical Revolution turns out to be bliss and far from the orderly process and moment; there were so many illegal executions here and the Republican camp and riots targeting white and Chinese citizens. Various parties took part in the revolution and often came into conflict because of ideological differences. When the depoliticization of the revolution took place, it was not much different from a neat and polite dinner.
The Relevance History
While still retaining relevance as a frame, After the Curfew has a message to convey today. With all its potential and limitations, today’s society also wonders what the discussion of historical moments is through this film. In other words, just by imagining the new engineering of After the Curfew, will the point of what Ismail wants to convey will change or stay with the point but framed in such a way?
Veterans’ subjects do not have to narrow down to ill-fated ex-soldier characters. On the other hand, regime reformers, disillusioned by the political changes they welcomed, failed to fulfill their promises. The historical momentum chosen, of course, presupposes a partisan attitude. On the other hand, legal measures to change the regime are relatively successful. It gave the image of an urban middle class who is politically aware and articulates the interests of the lower classes
The Political Disillusionment
In practice, how can a film like After the Curfew express the political disillusionment of those who played a role in such a change? Again, this film is a social representation of the characters in it. Iskandar as the disillusioned petty bourgeoisie and Puja is the gambler and pimp. Gunawan, who is an opportunist but still uses the lure of revolution as a shield, are only a few examples of these representations.
After the Curfew’s dilemma ends with pessimism despite knowing that the police patrol shot Iskandar dead. He died not in a heroic way. However, Iskandar’s anger, on the other hand, was a casual political outburst. Iskandar’s figure, also a limitation of After the Curfew, sinks into melancholy and prolonged psychology. However, from pessimism, the system always requires people to correct the failure of political change while imagining other possibilities.
- Barker, T. (2010). Historical inheritance and film nasional in post-reformasi Indonesian cinema. Asian Cinema, 21(2), 7-24.
- Pasaribu, A. J. (2020). After the Curfew: A Nation of Dead Ends. The Current | The Criterion Collection.
- Said, S. (1985). The genesis of power: civil-military relations in Indonesia during the Revolution for Independence, 1945-1949 (Doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University).
- Vickers, A. (2013). A history of modern Indonesia. Cambridge University Press.