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October 25, 2006

Historical Denial

On Saturday night, I was supposed to go to the Michigan Theater with Ken and a couple of other friends to see The Last King of Scotland, but I ended up staying home to read Dracula instead. I was, however, determined to see the movie, so David took me on Sunday.

It was an intriguing film, though hard to watch at the end, when things got really gory. The problem, however, was that it didn't teach me anything new about Uganda's history. My friend Susie said that she didn't know anything about Uganda when she went into the theater, and she still didn't know anything when she came out. The film told the story of Idi Amin's dictatorship from the perspective of Nicholas Garrigan, Amin's personal doctor. Garrigan was a Scottish physician who moved to Uganda in 1970 order to escape his father's medical practice. He had no particular interest in Uganda, he just spun the globe, determined to go wherever his finger landed. Garrigan arrived in Uganda the day General Amin took over the country in a coup and, after a chance encounter, Amin (who was obsessed with Scotland) seduced Garrigan into becoming his personal physician.

Through most of the 1970s, Garrigan was either innocent of or in denial about what was going on in the country. What was going on, exactly? Well, I don't know because the movie didn't say. We just see the British embassy getting really concerned (after they helped install Amin in the first place) and trying to get information about Amin from Garrigan, while people all around are complaining about how bad things are getting. Meanwhile, Garrigan is merrily going about his job and falling in love with Amin's third wife. Toward the end of the movie Garrigan gets scared and starts trying to leave Uganda, but it is still hard for the audience to understand why.

My main complaint about this movie is that it tells Garrigan's story, rather than the history of Uganda. Granted, the movie is supposed to be Garrigan's story, but a bit of contextualization would have made it a lot more compelling. The film could have shown the audience what Garrigan himself wasn't seeing (or wasn't admitting to having seen), thereby educating the audience about Uganda's history and emphasizing the extent of Garrigan's denial.

Posted by eklanche at October 25, 2006 11:18 AM


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