In his essay “The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” German philosopher Walter Benjamin wonders what happens to paintings when they are replicated. Does the original image lose its value when it is reproduced? What exactly distinguishes an original painting from its replica when both look identical in formal terms? Mencuri Raden Saleh (Stealing Raden Saleh, 2022), the latest hit-Indonesian caper flick trending at Netflix, has a similar narrative inquiry at its core. Although unlike Benjamin’s comprehensive essay, the film does not dwell much on the philosophy of replicating paintings, it still manages to turn this concept into an exciting and fun heist feature. Running at a whopping length of 154 minutes, the film both subscribes to and subverts the conventional tropes of the heist genre resulting in various turns and revelations throughout the film’s runtime.
This article looks at the various plot twists in the film, answering some head-scratching questions that the viewers might have been left with considering the film’s open-ended narrative. Since the article examines the film’s plot in detail, a SPOILER ALERT is on full display.
Stealing Raden Saleh (2022): Plot Summary and Synopsis
The opening frame of Mencuri Raden Saleh depicts our protagonist Piko (Iqbaal Ramadhan), replicating the work The Wilderness by Indonesian painter H. Widayat. Piko’s forged painting is then displayed at an auction in the National Gallery and sold at an outrageous price to a buyer who believes the artwork to be authentic. It is then revealed that Piko and his best-friend Ucup (Angga Yunanda) work for Dini (Atiqah Hasiholan), the curator at the gallery who sells the duplicate paintings disguised as the original. Piko, being a dexterous painter, can replicate most of the artworks with finesse, and for his efforts, Dini awards him a small sum which Piko uses to pay for his college tuition.
The film then leads us to other conflicts and characters. We meet Piko’s father, Budiman (Dwi Sasono), who is in prison, having been falsely implicated in a robbery case. For the case to re-open, the lawyer requires a hefty amount of two-billion Indonesian rupiah. To raise the sum, Ucup hooks up a deal with Dini to replicate “The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro,” a legendary painting by Indonesian artist Raden Saleh (after whom the film is named). Although Dini is initially reluctant to pay Piko the required sum, she eventually agrees, considering the artistry and skills needed to replicate Raden Saleh’s magnum opus.
Piko manages to paint the iconic painting as possibly close to the original and brings it to Dini. However, his plan backfires when it is divulged that Dini is secretly working for the country’s ex-President, Permadi (Tio Pakusadewo). Permadi is impressed with the forged painting but puts an offer of seventeen billion rupiahs to Piko to steal the original Raden Saleh piece by replacing it with his imitation. When Piko and Ucup hesitate to undertake this criminal task, Permadi intimidates them with his political power and threatens to extend the criminal sentence of Piko’s father.
Left with no choice, Piko and Ucup form a small gang of their own to attempt the heist. Alongside Piko and Ucup (who is a hacker), there is Sarah (Aghniny Haque), Piko’s girlfriend—an expert karateka who needs money to pay the mortgage to secure her grandmother’s residence. Step-brothers Gofar (Umay Shahab) and Tuktuk (Ari Irham) serve as the mechanical guides and drivers for the operation. Finally, there is Fella (Rachel Amanda), an ingenious and rich gambler who participates in the plan simply for thrills. The group plans an elaborate scheme to displace the original painting with the imitation while it is being moved from the Presidential palace to the National Gallery. Little do they know that a ruthless female cop, Sita (Andrea Dian), is determined to solve the case behind the recent forgeries in Indonesia’s artistic circuit.
What Happens During The First Heist?
After the narrative spends enough time discussing the gang’s modus operandi, we proceed with the heist sequence. Gofar and Tuktuk stealthily manage to get a job as truck drivers to deliver the painting to the National Gallery. Alongside, Piko paints a different truck in a similar design to imitate Gofar and Tuktuk’s truck as a means to dupe the police who are meant to guard the truck. Despite timing their heist, the group’s plan ultimately backfires when Sita recognizes that there are two similar trucks on the roadway. Further adding fuel to the fire, Piko accidentally hits the cop car with his truck, creating panic amidst the group and causing them to abort their heist. While all of the members manage to get away, the police apprehend Tuktuk before he can plan his escape. The police manage to get hold of both the original as well as Piko’s painting, although they lack the skills to distinguish between the two.
Tuktuk’s arrest creates fissures between the group, and they go into hiding. On the other hand, Dina walks over to the police station, falsely claims Piko’s painting to be the original piece, and slyly delivers the ‘real’ image to the ex-President, Permadi.
The First Twist
As the group grapples with its failure, the film throws its first twist at us. It is disclosed to the viewers that it was ultimately Piko’s father, Budiman, who had set Permadi to trick Piko into duplicating the painting. Believing that there was no other way to raise the two billion rupiahs for his release, Budiman had to implicate his son into working for Permadi. Although Permadi agrees to open Budiman’s legal case by offering two billion rupiahs to his lawyer, he steps back on his earlier promise to hire a judge for Budiman’s case. A betrayed Budiman is infuriated by Permadi’s diplomacy and threatens to disclose information about the original painting. Permadi, in turn, warns Budiman of throwing his son in prison since he took part in the heist. Budiman is left helpless against Permadi’s diplomatic ways.
Why Does Ex-President Permadi Want The Paintings?
While initially, it is left unclear why ex-President Permadi would want original copies of the country’s most historically important paintings, his motives are slowly unfurled as the narrative proceeds. Rather than being a connoisseur of art, Permadi seeks to rob the country of its most essential paintings as a means to seek revenge. Turns out that when Permadi was the President of the country, his son Rama (Muhammad Khan) was involved in a bribery case that became national headlines. As a result, Permadi was forced to resign, which ultimately ruined his political career. Still acrimonious over his robbed political career, Permadi seeks to avenge his wrongdoing by stealing the country’s paintings and, thereby, its cultural heritage.
Why Does The Group Come Up With The Idea For A Second-Heist?
Following their failed plan, which renders them criminal fugitives, the despondent gang has no choice but to go into hiding. Piko, while on a secret trip to the National Gallery, also realizes that it is ultimately his painting on public display. Infuriated by the fact that they have been conned by Permadi (who now possesses the original Raden Saleh), the group decides to get back at him. Their motive is further strengthened when Tuktuk is released from prison due to the dearth of evidence against him. With their newfound resolve, the group decides to retrieve the original painting from Permadi’s house.
Sarah decides to seduce Permadi’s son, Rama, which leads him to invite her to his birthday party at his father’s house. Meanwhile, the extremely-opulent Fella purchases the catering and event management company meant to serve at the party, allowing Piko, Ucup, Tuktuk, and Gofar to masquerade as waiters and helpers during the gathering. Gaining access to Permadi’s house, Piko and Ucup eventually locate the original Raden Saleh painting while Sarah distracts Rama. During the same time, Tuktuk and Gofar plant a smoke-releasing bomb that turns on the fire alarm creating panic amidst the crowded party. This allows a perfect distraction for Ucup and Piko to steal the painting and put it in their truck.
Stealing Raden Saleh (2022) Movie Ending, Explained:
The Second Twist
Just as our protagonists are escaping with the painting, they are cornered by Piko’s father, Budiman, and his masked accomplice. It is revealed that Budiman had managed to escape his cell in a prison-laundry van and decides to head to Permadi’s house in disguise to get the painting. Piko and Ucup put up their best fight against Budiman. Still, Budiman overpowers them and manages to take the truck from Piko, telling him there is no way he can save himself from Permadi’s clutches other than stealing the Raden Saleh painting. Piko is left heartbroken by his father’s betrayal but is too shocked to retaliate. Budiman and his accomplice leave with the truck, which seems to contain the original painting.
But in the film’s final twist, it is revealed that Piko and Ucup had masterminded another plan before their departure—their “contingency plan.” While in Permadi’s house, Piko and Ucup came across another painting by artist Agus Suwage titled “One Thousand Years-Yaser Arafat.” To make their plan more fool-proof, the duo had absconded with both the images, keeping Raden Saleh in Fella’s truck while the Agus Suwage one was in theirs. Thus, with the help of their contingency plan, the group manages to escape, with the painting finally in their possession. Meanwhile, as Budiman discovers the Agus Suwage painting in his truck, he cannot help but smile at his son’s ingenuity despite having been fooled by him.
In the film’s final sequence, the group happily unites with the painting secure in their truck. Soon after, they receive a call from Dina, who had seen them escape with the image. Dina offers them a prodigious sum of ten million dollars in exchange for the painting. Flabbergasted by this offer, the group rejoices in excitement!
What Is The Thematic Relevance Behind The Raden Saleh’s Painting?
Figure 1: The eponymous painting holds much relevance in the film and is more than just an artistic artifact to be stolen.
The titular painting in the film “The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro” is more than just a MacGuffin and bears immense thematic importance in the narrative. Firstly, as Piko explains earlier in the film, the painting holds tremendous significance for the country, both artistically as well as culturally. Figuratively, the painting depicts the arrest of the Javanese prince, Diponegoro, who stood up against Dutch colonial rule but was ultimately defeated. By symbolizing courage and pride against imperialism, the painting becomes a post-colonial symbol of resistance against oppression and is thus of prime importance for the country’s heritage. Moreover, Prince Diponegoro’s resistance against the colonial empire mirrors Piko’s defiance of the unjust law and, ultimately, against the corrupt Permadi.
But more importantly, as Piko’s monologue later reiterates, the painting is also about betrayal. Historically, Prince Diponegoro was called by the Dutch officials to negotiate the end of his rebellion, but he was cunningly betrayed by the colonial rulers, leading to his arrest. Similar to the painting, the theme of betrayal recurs throughout the film—Permadi’s betrayal of Piko and his gang, Budiman’s betrayal of his own son, and ultimately the gang’s betrayal against everyone who wronged them, including Permadi and Budiman. The film cleverly inserts the painting, not just as an artifact to be stolen but to connect its thematic ties with the film’s plot.
The Mid-Credits Scene: Does The Film Leave Doors Open For A Sequel?
Just when our heroes have achieved their final victory and the credits start to roll, the film reveals a surprise in the form of a mid-credits scene. In the brief sequence, we see officer Sita making her way to Piko’s garage and ultimately uncovering the plan of the gang, along with their photographs. This leaves the film’s narrative open-ended as the viewers realize that the threat of the law still looms large over our protagonists.
Director Angga Dwimas Sasongko, in an interview, has also hinted about the film being a part of a planned trilogy, provided that the first film is a success. With the film trending in multiple countries and receiving critical acclaim, we certainly will be hearing again from Piko and his ingenious gang!