Rated R. A lot of people warned me that this was a pretty brutal movie. It is. There's cruelty and gore horrors that are perhaps more troubling because these things happened to real people. There's also quite a bit of sexuality in nudity in this movie, which I wasn't really as prepped for. The language is intense at times. Really, the movie as a whole is a pretty intense experience. Any movie that involves an attempted abortion under duress is going to be some pretty heavy stuff. It's not for the feint of heart. R.
DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald
I made a mistake, guys. The next movie I was supposed to watch was Little Miss Sunshine. I only realize that I skipped it when I put this disc back. Can you imagine the different day I would have had if I had watched Little Miss Sunshine? Instead, I watched a movie about a genocidal madman who did uncomfortable surgeries on people who dissented against his regime. Regardless, I have wanted to see this movie for a while. When I got the Fox Searchlight box set, I was slightly bummed how many of the movies I had owned on DVD or had seen before. The Last King of Scotland was always a hole in my movie watching, so I'm glad that I watched it. It's just...you know, intense.
I have a history minor. But I have to admit that I knew very little about Idi Amin. I knew the name and I associated that name with a dictatorship. Can we really count film as scholarly sources? I wondered if you could take a history course and teach the entire thing with movies? It's a dangerous precedent to set, but watching a story like Amin's makes it come to life. I think we have a problem with empathy when we are presented with statistics. It's why we are so moved by films about the Holocaust, because we make these people real. Telling the story from the perspective of Garrigan does so much to both inform about the situation in Uganda, but also allows the movie to provide commentary on western ignorance.
Again, I don't know how accurate the characterization of Nicholas Garrigan was. When I found out that James McAvoy was in this, I got a little excited. I think this might be Forrest Whittaker's most famous role, so that wasn't a shock. But starting with McAvoy is a bit brilliant. McAvoy, for as deep as he gets within this story and this regime, represents my absolute ignorance of what is going on in the rest of the world. If the world wasn't burning right now, I don't think I'd be on top of the news like I am right now. Even the news I get today is more condemning of American politics than it is about the world stage. But Garrigan is this guy whose biggest problem is that he is far too comfortable to be happy. There's nothing more unsympathetic than to say, "You're a doctor, but you don't want to be like your dad." I mean, some stories get a lot of distance on the idea that the protagonist is desperately trying to be different from his father. I don't know how he didn't think he was going to get Canada on that first spin, by the way.
But his actions during the opening credits of the film are telling of the kind of man that both he and westerners are. He sees this experience in Uganda as a kind of vacation. He wants that hero worship. "How noble" and whatnot. But what does he do on the bus ride out to his clinic? He sleeps with a woman that he just met. Okay, this is me being judgy-judgy because I can be. But Garrigan is a man who seems to dehumanize people because he sees his life as more valuable. There is no intention to form a relationship with that woman. Instead, he opens his vacation to Uganda by sleeping with one of the local people. It's this odd balance of showing how open-minded he is while simultaneously being remarkably naive.
I mean, the story is really establishing the thing that Nicholas Garrigan's downfall will come from his womanizing and sexual obsessions. He sleeps with the girl at the beginning, showing his complete distancing from the human person. He doesn't see her as a woman, but simply as a conquest based on his verbal cry during intercourse. But then, he tries seducing Sarah Merrit, Dr. Merrit's wife. Merrit, an on-the-nose name, is a good man. He is actually there to help people, not to run from the responsibilities of the suburbs. By seducing Sarah, Merrit loses all form of conscience. Sarah, after all, seems to have a far greater understanding of the coming of Amin and what the consequences will be with his regime.
I can't help but view Nicholas Garrigan as Nick Carroway from The Great Gatsby. The Last King of Scotland isn't about Garrigan so much as it is about Amin. The Great Gatsby is not about Nick Carroway so much as it is about Jay Gatz. But because we're looking through the eyes of a flawed narrator, we get to see the contrast of these extreme characters. Similarly, because they are so flawed, we wonder if any of the situation would have happened if these narrators had actually had degrees of moral fortitude. With Nick, he knows that Daisy's husband is cheating on her and he does nothing. With Garrigan, he reports Jonah Wasswa to Amin, knowing that Amin is a little off and dangerous. Neither narrator holds complete responsibility for the actions of their counterparts, but there is enough there to plant the seed of doubt.
I suppose that I'm pretty blessed to live in America, although I can't really see the goodness very clearly in these very troublesome days. It's because I see the elements of Amin's dictatorship over the country that has always mentally been distanced from such insane goings-on. Amin is this guy who is borderline a manchild with a gun. Obsessed with people liking him, he puts on a show every time that he is at the mic. Even Garrigan acknowledges that this is Amin's strength. But to maintain that illusion, he removes anyone who even questions his authority. He is a man who is built on lies. This week, we found out that there is a secret police in Portland rounding up protesters. While Trump isn't executing his own people, I can't help but see that people are dying because the commander-in-chief wants so much for people to like him right now. It's an odd film to be watching right now because the cultural context of 2006 isn't exactly the environment of 2020.
I adore the performances in this movie. Forrest Whittaker is such an amazing actor and he just immerses himself in this role. I give him props because it is a very challenging task to show a character who comes across as remarkably childish without playing him as a childish guy. There's this history of dictatorships in Uganda that Whittaker is drawing from. His behavior, from his perspective, is that he's the hero that Uganda needs. But he is also one of these people who is instantly corrupted by power that he's never had before. He loves being loved and hates being hated. There is no politics to what he does, but rather a showmanship. The age of the television camera made Idi Amin, based on Whittaker's performance. Because he can get reporters to laugh and ignore hard facts, he comes across as this guy who can't possibly be doing these evil things. And Garrigan, because he's so darned close, doesn't realize the evil he's condoning because you can only see atrocities from a place of exile.
It's not an easy movie to watch, but The Last King of Scotland is a tank of a film. It's a bummer watching this cautionary tale of something that might be happening today. But Amin is this guy who is so over-the-top evil that it makes it this interesting fencing match.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.