Foreign Policy Blogs

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

It’s 1965 in Indonesia.
Sukarno heads an ever-increasingly unstable government.
That is the backdrop for this story, the story of Australian journalist Guy Hamilton and his trial by fire in his first overseas assignment.
He meets the diminutive Billy Kwan, a photographer who helps him secure sources for his stories. Through Kwan, Hamilton is introduced to Jill, an aide to the British military attaché (played by Sigourney Weaver).
This movie is about the relationships of these three people in turbulent times. There are questions of trust, betrayal, love, and friendship.
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Actress Linda Hunt won a much-deserved Oscar for her portrayal of Kwan, a man. Her performance is spot-on as Kwan, a person with a deep love of his country and an awareness of the injustice faced by the nation’s poor.
As much as Hamilton (played by Mel Gibson) feels he has been using Kwan, Kwan sets him straight, reminding the reporter how he has fed him sources all along.
“I created you,” Kwan tells Hamilton at one point.
There is also a cast of characters playing boozy foreign journalists with whom Hamilton has a rocky relationship.


Sukarno was Indonesia’s first president following colonization by the Dutch and occupation by the Japanese during World War II.
Much hope accompanied his rise to power but his mismanagement of the economy and eventual distancing from the communists fed the flames of discontent and he was removed by General Suharto by 1966.
Megawati Sukarnoputri, Sukarno’s oldest daughter, became president in 2001, 13 years after the removal of Suharto as Indonesia’s president.
This film provides a snapshot of a country with the largest Muslim population in the world as it tries to find middle ground in the cold war. If it is against anything it is politics in general and the ever-present corruption in totalitarian governments.
It is definitely worth watching.
The Year of Living Dangerously is available to rent.
Murphy can be reached at: [email protected]



Sean Patrick Murphy

Sean Patrick Murphy is a graduate of Bennington College, where he majored in politics and Latin American literature. He has worked for Current History magazine, Physicians for Human Rights, and Citizens for Global Solutions (formerly the World Federalist Association). He lives outside Philadelphia.

Areas of Focus:
Cinematography; Independent Films; Documentary;