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Vann Nath, Chum Mey, Kim Houy, Prak Khan, Sours Thi ... see more see more... , Nhiem Ein , Khieu Poev Ches , Tcheam Seur , Nhieb Ho , Som Meth , Top Pheap , Peng Kry , Mak Thim , Ta Him , Yeay Cheu , Houy Him , Prakk Kahn

In 1975-79, the Khmer Rouge waged a campaign of genocide on Cambodia's population. 1.7 million Cambodians lost their lives to famine and murder as the urban population was forced into the countryside ... read more read fulfill the Khmer Rouges' dream of an agrarian utopia. In S21, Panh brings two survivors back to the notorious Tuol Sleng prison (code-named "S21"), now a genocide museum where former Khmer Rouge is employed as guides. Painter Vann Nath confronts his former captors in the converted schoolhouse where he was tortured, though by chance he did not suffer the fate of most of the other 17,000 men, women and children who were taken there, their "crimes" meticulously documented to justify their execution. The ex-Khmer Rouge guards respond to Nath's provocations with excuses, chilling stoicism or apparent remorse as they recount the atrocities they committed at ages as young as 12 years old. To escape torture, the prisoners would confess to anything, and often denounce everyone they knew - though their final sentence was never in doubt.

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75% liked it

598 ratings


97% liked it

30 critics

Unrated, 1 hr. 41 min.

Directed by: Rithy Panh

Release Date: May 19, 2004

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DVD Release Date: May 24, 2005

Stats: 54 reviews


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Flixster Reviews (54)

  • August 17, 2009
    This is the first of 2 depressing documentaries I watched in a row.

    As horrendously sad as this historic incident that is the subject of this movie is, it is sad to say that I thought it wasn?t very exciting. That doesn?t mean to say that subject isn?t interesting, just that th... read moree movie gets a little ?repetitive?. It is a unique opportunity to rehash the absurd genocide that occurred. People who were part of the killing machine are confronted by people who were the victims. But are the punishers also victims? That?s one of the things this doc puts forth, and probably the most compelling thing, but watch people repeat their actions and show that they were pretty much brainwashed doesn?t make for exciting movie watching.

    Again, it is a brave accomplishment. It is a bold message about one of the worst things that can ever happen and did in modern times. I get it. And you can too by watching. The bad part is that it can be got even without really paying attention to the movie.
  • August 23, 2008
    Very haunting film about the murderous regime of the Khmer Rogue in Cambodia. Could have used a bit more cotxt and structure. I dont know a whole lot about the Khmer Rogue and its origins, but the film only spends about three minutes on that in the very beginning. Still, the i... read morenterviews with the victims of torture and the guards that did it to them is intense.

Critic Reviews

Chris Vognar
July 15, 2004
Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News

A haunting look at the historical amnesia that envelops countries or regimes after officially sanctioned barbarism. Full Review

Desson Thomson
June 11, 2004
Desson Thomson, Washington Post

A modest but nonetheless devastating documentary. Full Review

Ann Hornaday
June 11, 2004
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

Cinema at its most intellectually honest and morally necessary. Full Review

V.A. Musetto
June 5, 2004
V.A. Musetto, New York Post


Owen Gleiberman
May 20, 2004
Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

At a moment when issues of torture loom so large in our world, S21 testifies to the chilling ease with which ordinary men can cross the line into homicidal sadism. Full Review

Jan Stuart
May 19, 2004
Jan Stuart, Newsday

Serves as a potent and necessary reminder of how easily war can defeat the humanity of the good and the well-intentioned. Full Review

J. Hoberman
May 18, 2004
J. Hoberman, Village Voice

Understated and unforgettable; in its modest way, this movie is as horrific an exposure to evil as Lanzmann's Shoah. Full Review

Derek Elley
May 4, 2004
Derek Elley, Variety

There's no shortage of existing docus on the subject, and Panh's doesn't bring either a fresh enough angle or enough new material to the table to justify its length. Full Review

Elvis Mitchell
February 2, 2004
Elvis Mitchell, New York Times

In this affecting and effective documentary, a placid artist returns to the place where he was tortured by the Khmer Rouge to confront the men who worked as guards. Full Review

Dennis Schwartz
September 12, 2005
Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Offers one of the most powerful and unforgettable looks at evil. Full Review

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