Monday, January 19, 2009

RULE # 1: DON'T BEFRIEND UGANDAN DICTATORS

One of my favorite discoveries in grocery stores in the last year has been what I affectionately refer to as "the red box". Granted, sometimes these boxes are, in fact, blue, but it's the same reason why every tissue you blow your nose with is a "Kleenex". At these little nuggets of joy, you can rent a new movie for 1$ for one night. That's all I ever want to watch anyway: that movie, once, that night--so, these boxes are total genius.

Last night's installment, an impulse rent on the way home from a pastor search committee meeting, was The Last King of Scotland. I first tried to watch this on the way to Kenya, but when you're flying for nearly 40 hours, you're not going to stay awake for anything, even tales of Forrest Whittaker and Ugandan warlords.


The movie tells the story of a Scot, played by James McEvoy, who wants some adventure before settling down to the life of a physician, traveling to Uganda to work in the foreign medical office. Before long, he's fortuitously made the personal physician to the new president of Uganda, Idi Amin. Idi Amin, as history tells us, was one of the most brutal dictators in history, murdering over 300,000 of his own people in fits of paranoia and control. The movie follows McEvoy, as he is allured by Amin, and comes to terms with how he himself has become implicit in Amin's regime. As a movie, McEvoy did nothing for me--he was honestly a little flat. Whittaker's Amin was a great character study and should have been his Oscar. The film itself--middle of the road.

The film raises good questions about what it means to be a part of a larger regime. In my own dissertation, I'm looking at the draft during Vietnam and asking the question of "the outside", i.e. what happens when there is no place outside the system to be, and what happens to resistance to the system then. And so, apart from Forrest Whittaker's fantastic portrayal, this movie worked for me on a number of levels. For McEvoy, the way out of being complicit is not simply apologizing for a blind eye, but active resistance to that which he has become a part of, to the point of pain. Again, I won't spoil the ending here, but it's pretty gruesome.

I couldn't help but think of my trip to Kenya and Rwanda while watching this. There were several moments when a character would yell "Twende!", which is KiSwahili for "let's go"; there were village scenes or driving scenes that, somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember. Nearly two years later, that trip feels more like the trip someone else took at times. This is the part that people don't speak of when you go someplace like Kenya: that you will never be able to fully keep those moments, but that they will revisit you when you do not expect them. There are parts of the movie I can't relate to--the brutality, the anguish, the violent danger. But in light of last year's political violence in Kenya, these are parts that are too real for friends of mine.

One of the values of Last King, thus, is being reminded that stories are never just stories: they are lives given enough transcendence to ramp out of the locked recesses of newspapers and into the maelstrom of the living, where they will hide quietly until aroused, when they will speak into the present, creating a clanging gong where otherwise we would have prefered a dim and unobtrusive chime.

3 and a half machetes out of 5.

4 comments:

John Barber said...

Brilliant as always, Myles. I haven't seen this one yet, but I'll bump it up to the top of the queue. We'll see if old Forrest can outdo GHOST DOG. I doubt it.

piciturs

the hamster said...

lovely. barber and i are over here making spit bubble reviews and you're crafting frickin' snow globes everytime. beauty.

my wife does not appreciate the forrest whittaker. unfortunate.

reart - using white-out on canvas to start part of a painting over

myleswerntz said...

seriously. you guys have got to say something other than "your posts are so pretty." it makes me self-conscious.

ducalva--the use of both calves.

the hamster said...

but, myles, it's a good thing we are saying to you.

also, i like when you talk about kenya. in fact, i don't think you talk enough about it.

when folks get to holding art against the places of their own life, when our own life experiences weigh our art experiences, then our reviews and our reactions take on a whole new dimension. i can debate you all day over the cultural significance or the technical worth of a piece, but i cannot debate your reaction to it. that's what makes posts like this so good.

unfortunately, the majority of people i know debate personal reactions as much as they debate anything, calling a person "shallow" or "short sighted" for allowing a "stupid" piece of art to resonate deeply within them. because of this, i have chosen to talk about subway sandwiches rather than my actual interaction. i think i'm growing overly pessimistic in my old age. all this to say, once again, that's what makes a post like this good for me. it challenges me to give a finger to my social helmets and shoulder pads.

we need more kenya from you somewhere.

lymyt - in literature, the sandwiching of "y"-heavy vowels between unsuspecting consonant sounds