Elevate Difference

The Last King of Scotland

Idi Amin loved fast cars. Idi Amin so admired the Scots that he outfitted his soldiers in tartan kilts and had them play bagpipes along with their drums. Idi Amin and his "State Research Bureau" killed approximately 300,000 Ugandan men, women, and children.

The film The Last King of Scotland, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Giles Foden, depicts snapshots of Amin's presidency as seen through the eyes of his personal physician, Nicholas Garrigan (played by James McAvoy). Pursuing adventure, young Scottish physician Garrigan heedlessly trips into Uganda on the eve of Amin's ascent to power. Garrigan soon crosses paths with the new president at a dramatic political rally; Forest Whitaker's first scene as Amin must go down as one of the most terrifying entrances on film.

At first the film has an almost light tone, and the early humor disarms the viewer in a manner similar to how the charisma of Amin seduces Garrigan. Amin takes Garrigan's advice on matters of state, and the two pal around in swimming pools and at state dinners. But eventually the depths of Amin's corruption and atrocities reveal a personality inflated to grotesque dimensions.

The film's portrait of Amin is fascinating, but the real curiosity of the film is watching Garrigan become intrigued, entwined, and repulsed by the power surrounding him. Garrigan's subplots leave the moviegoer to speculate how far the physician will follow Amin down the garden path, and how grandly his own ambitions will bloat him, edging him towards explicit evil. In this manner, the film addresses more than one cruel dictator and one nation's tragedy. Instead, its scope covers the dark corners of human nature, the seductive lure of power and the tidal inertia that sweeps bystanders into war criminals.

Shot on location in Uganda, The Last King of Scotland is worth seeing for the lush, misty scenery of a nation few Westerners will ever see firsthand, as well as for the Oscar-caliber performances. Although fiction, both the novel and the film version of The Last King of Scotland are a good launching point for learning about Amin's Uganda and the strange interactions between former colonial Africa and the West. The film is, ahead of Oscar season, currently enjoying a wide theatrical re-release, with a DVD release scheduled for April 17, 2007.

Written by: Dominae Petrosini, February 23rd 2007