Monday, November 27, 2006
I Know Who You Are and What You Are
This year I kept with my usual cheery tradition of seeing a Thanksgiving movie -- I generally try to see something happy like The Accused (nothing like a graphic depiction of gang rape to ring in the holiday season) and this year I saw The Last King of Scotland, a movie about a naive Scottish doctor who gets involved with Idi Amin, easily one of the most horrific and charismatic of the dictators of the last century (Amin left power in Uganda in 1979 after his regime killed around 300,000 of his own people). Forest Whitaker plays Amin with a subtle sociopathic intensity that scared the devil out of or into me (I had nightmares from this one). I've always been a fan of Forest W. -- he's one of those actors that's so good that he fades into role after role and hasn't been given proper notice. My dear friend Hank introduced me to his work in the film Ghost Dog, and not for the first time, I was sad that Hank wasn't alive. That happens when someone dies -- you keep seeing things that you wish he or she could have seen, would have loved, been able to explain to you and the list goes on. Forest as Idi will most certainly get notice if not a well-deserved Oscar, and I will not forget this performance although it's not a date movie or something you want to go see or rent on family night unless your family was like mine.
The important question for me in the movie hit me well after I was outside, fumbling for my coat and walking into the night. How does a movie keep such a taut attention with virtually no suspense? The character of the young Scottish doctor (Nicolas Garrigan played to great effect by James McAvoy) comes to us within the first five minutes of the film -- he's bored with Scotland, he longs for adventure in a foreign place, he's no stranger to booze and pot, and he has a weakness for married women. Once in Uganda, he finds himself caught up as Stevie Wonder might sing, with things he doesn't understand, but he's entranced. As viewers, we know with certainty what will probably happen, and it ain't good. Even so, my attention did not wander once and a few scenes sent my hand flying to my mouth to cover it. The key is the substitution of anxiety for mystery and the power of the rendering of setting. I know very little about Africa in the 70s, even less about Uganda in particular, and there I was somewhere both exotic and familiar (Amin's bedroom with its animal heads looked like Elvis' bedroom at Graceland and Deep Throat plays from an old-fashioned film projecter and outside there were guns and jungle and armed guards everywhere). As for anxiety, well, that's the brilliance of this movie. I've heard anxiety described as godlessness, as the root of sickness, as the disease of the modern age. For me, anxiety means you see more than the person you're watching (even and especially if that person is you) and you're afraid because you can imagine the worse outcome and you also understand that what you have imagined isn't probably as bad as it can get. During an interview, Forest Whitaker says that people in Uganda freaked out a little when he showed up for the first time dressed as Amin at the hospital where they were doing the filming. No doubt they did. Some of them had been around in Amin's time and others had heard of his horrible legend. They knew the ending, and they knew Whitaker was an actor. Still, it didn't keep them from fear. They had reason to know that you're never safe.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Your death, I think, will be the first real thing that happens to you." The Last King of Scotland
Drinking music suggestion: A Love Supreme John Coltrane
Maledictions and Benedictions
Since Christmas is nearing, I'd like to ask my readers -- any creative gift suggestions? Feel free to chime in on the comment board all week about gift ideas. Also, if anyone wants to tell about great gifts they've given or received in the past, please do!