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In 2009, Aberjhani has emerged as one of the pioneers of online interpretative citizen journalism. In his position as the national African-American Art Examiner, he has logged informative and entertaining stories on such era-defining issues as: the case of Georgia death-row inmate Troy Anthony Davis; the life and death of Michael Jackson; the return of neosoul singer Maxwell; the Johnny Mercer Centennial; and profiles of artists working in the U.S. Southeast.
His books, four of which have Kindle editions, include: ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love (2008, with artist Luther E. Vann); The American Poet Who Went Home Again (2008); The Bridge of Silver Wings 2009; Christmas When Music Almost Killed the World (2007/2008); Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black (2006); Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (2003, Facts On File); The Wisdom of W.E.B. Du Bois (2003, Kensington Books);and I Made My Boy Out of Poetry (1997, Washington Publications/iUniverse). He has also edited a number of titles for both independent authors and academic institutions. ESSENCE Magazine listed his Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance among its �recommended gift items� and Black Issues Book Review listed it among their �Recommended Titles for the Home Library.� Grits.com selected his ELEMENTAL gift book of art and poetry as one the featured recommended titles for its online book club.
Aberjhani is also the founder of the popular Creative Thinkers International website.
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Vincent & Theo (1990)
Vincent and Theo: Brotherly Love of the Intense Kind
I have one favorite scene in the film VINCENT AND THEO, the late Robert Altman's highly acclaimed masterwork on the life of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. It is a short brutal scene in the first half of the movie when Van Gogh's model and mistress is leaving him: she slaps him witless, and then kisses him hard on the mouth before storming out of the apartment.
That double action of pained frustration and loving adoration seems a sad but accurate metaphor for the entire film and possibly for Van Gogh himself. Whereas life bestowed upon him a bliss-filled kiss of exceptional artistic and spiritual vision, the hand of fate slapped him so hard that he was robbed of any lasting personal joy that might have come from this great gift.
Van Gogh (in the film played brilliantly by Tim Roth) is one of those creative geniuses of history whose life story continues to haunt and inform us from one century to the next. The question is "Why?" Could it be because the beauty and evidence of that genius continues to increase with time and therefore makes us wonder about the cultural values and "personalities" we tend to either champion or malign in modern days? That it definitely does increase can be measured in one sense by the millions of dollars for which this eighteenth century impressionist artist's paintings now sell.
The whole point of Altman's film seems to be to illustrate how Vincent's genius found refuge for a while in his brother Theo's love. It is well known that even though Theo (who is played with mesmerizing neurotic precision by Paul Rhys) was a relatively successful art dealer, he was unable to manipulate the market to his brother's advantage. That did not, however, stop him from financially supporting him throughout his short adult life as a painter. Altman makes that point clear enough when Theo informs his brother that the money Vincent thought their father had been sending him had in fact been provided by Theo. Rather than belaboring this aspect of their relationship, director Altman moves his camera back and forth between scenes that show us how very much alike, and yet simultaneously different, Vincent and Theo were in their thwarted pursuits of a triumphant life.
As Theo eagerly courted "respectable ladies," Vincent just as eagerly enjoyed women of a certain profession. Whereas Vincent yearned to prove himself an artist worthy of the name, Theo yearned to prove himself a businessman worthy of prominence and prosperity. Vincent's descent into madness manifests more tangibly because it takes on the more graphically visual qualities associated with art itself: we see him court and then violently alienate the attentions of his equally genius friend Paul Gauguin; watch him stick knives menacingly in his mouth, cut off his earlobe, meekly endure his stay in an asylum, stand in a sunlit field where he has been painting black birds and calmly shoot himself. All the while, some of the most celebrated canvases in art history, depicting a virtual of ecstasy of sunflowers, starry nights, and golden wheat fields, rapidly pile up.
Theo is actually able to resist the powerful tug of debilitating madness until after his brother succumbs to it. That he does fall prey to it is tragically ironic because despite the syphilis that mars his happiness, he achieves some measure of the "ideal life" with a wife, new baby, and modest advancement in his career. He therefore appears to have all the motivation necessary to sustain a stable existence. But when he places all of Vincent's work (after the artist's death) in a suite of rooms for an exhibit, he screams at his wife that "This is the most important thing in my life!" and forces her to leave. It would seem at that point that he not only loved Vincent and believed deeply in his talent, but was in fact a kind of extension of him, and vice versa. The loss of Vincent on July 29, 1890, at the age of only 37, triggered in Theo a mental and physical collapse. He died less than a year later on January 25, 1891, at the age of 33.
This 1990 movie (released on DVD in 2005) is 138 minutes long so no one can claim it's too short. I only wish Altman had included somewhere in it the story of howafter studying for the ministry and before he became a painterVincent spent forty days nursing back to health a miner who had been injured in an explosion and whom doctors had expected to die. The miner's recovery was described as a miracle and, from the scars left on his face, Van Gogh experienced a vision of the wounds that Christ suffered from the crown of thorns placed on his head. Some allusion to this may have added greater understanding to the intense spiritual impulses that drove Van Gogh's devotion to his art and helped clarify what he hoped to communicate through it. Even so, the film as it stands is itself a remarkable painting of two extraordinary brothers who shared one profound and astonishing destiny.
by Author-Poet Aberjhani
author of ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
Le scaphandre et le papillon (2007)
An Inspired Wonder Called "The Diving Bell and The Butterfly"
After reading the former French Elle Magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, when it was first published in 1997, I couldn't help wondering if it would be possible for anyone to make a decent movie out of it. After watching the film directed by Julian Schnabel, with a screenplay by Ronald Howard, I was awestruck to acknowledge that not only had they made a decent film, but a gorgeous and phenomenal one.
It makes sense that The Diving Bell and the Butterfly should shine on the big screen like the huge glowing miracle that it is because the fact that Bauby even "wrote" his book at all was itself nothing less than a king-sized miracle. A major stroke in his brain stem left him paralyzed with locked-in syndrome, a condition in which he was fully conscious but unable to move any part of his body except his left eye.
Whereas the shock of finding oneself in such a torturous state might have caused many to shut down completely, Bauby rose to the occasion within himself by the sheer power of will, spirit, and the loving compassion of others. His body, he noted, may have become like a heavy diving suit that weighed him down, but his mind became freedom personified, like a butterfly that floats at will through realms of intellect, memory, and imagination. Harnessing the resources at hand, he learned to dictate by indicating individual letters with the blink of an eye and managed to compose a small masterpiece
Actor and director Mathieu Amalric plays Bauby with deeply attractive humanity. Viewers first meet him from inside his head, so to speak, as he begins to regain consciousness and doctors gather to explain what has happened. Once the unsettling fact of his paralysis is painfully established, we move with the stream of Bauby's consciousness back and forth through scenes of high-energy photo shoots at Elle Magazine, memories of shaving his father, the complications of a love affair, and fantasies of intimate encounters with his lovely female therapists.
A particularly powerful element within this movie is the portrayal of Bauby's existential stubbornness. Ironically enough, prior to his stroke, he becomes angry with his lover when she insists they visit Lourdes, a place where divine healings reportedly often takes place. Still later, when in a wheelchair, a priest offers him communion and he signals to his therapist with a blink of his eye that he does not want it. Comically, his therapist ignores this and tells the priest he does. It is this determination to guard his sense of individual humanity that makes Bauby beautifully heroic, even though he would not describe himself as such.
Actress Emmanuelle Seigner plays Bauby's estranged wife Celine with subtle intensity and one marvels at the quiet dignity she brings to the part. Equally engaging in their supporting roles are Max Von Sydow as Bauby's father; Marie-Josée Croze as the therapist who teaches him to communicate with blinks of a single eye; and Isaach De Bankole as his visiting friend Laurent.
Both as a book and as a film, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is largely about the perspectives that we choose to apply to our lives. Though he suffered one of the worse fates imaginable, Bauby chose to believe his life was still a meaningful one and worked to produce a celebrated book that was published just 10 days before he died. Julian Schnabel's film is a work of cinematic poetry that honors both the man and the work through the very means that Bauby employed to live his final days: penetrating intelligence, inspired compassion, and luminous imagination.
by Author-Poet Aberjhani, author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again, and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
Stomp the Yard (2007)
"Stomp the Yard" A Film of Life-Affirming Power and Beauty
Director Sylvain White's STOMP THE YARD may not strike many as an ideal movie for the family to gather around and watch during holidays or other special occasions but it actually is because holidays are about reaping the benefits of tradition and this movie is about that too. It's not so clear at the film's beginning whether we're watching a violent video game or a demonstration of directorial genius. The distinction, however, soon becomes obvious and the genius apparent.
The mesmerizing opening dance scenes come across a lot like video gladiator battle sequences. These give way to the urban realism of a more brutal and fatal L.A. gang clash after the not-so-lethal dance battle. DJ, played pitch perfectly by Columbus Short, loses his brother Duron (singer Chris Brown does an impressive job in this role) to a bullet in the clash and life as DJ knows it then comes to a screeching halt.
After a brief time in jail, he leaves the West Coast for Georgia, where he moves in with his aunt and uncle, then enrolls in college. It seems like the perfect strategy for rebuilding your life but DJ has problems with the idea that he's living his brother's dream of going to college and that his own is not all that definite. Perhaps among the most under-appreciated gifted actors of his generation, Harry Lennix gives one of the strongest performances of his career as the no-nonsense-taking uncle who pulls DJ out of his self-pitying funk. Their relationship proves to be one of tough-love and mutual respect. It also provides a rare glimpse into how black male relatives often function as surrogate fathers to youth whose biological fathers for whatever reason are nowhere to be seen.
The move from West Coast to Georgia might appear coincidental but in fact it is crucial to this film because DJ's move takes him out of a region of the country where historically black institutions like Clark University and Tuskegee Institute do not exist, and into one where their presence and legacy remains strong. The move to Georgia turns into an inner journey to his ancestral beginnings where ultimately he discovers the strength and integrity needed to cope with the grief over his brother's death and move forward with a vision for his own life.
Once he becomes a student at Truth University, DJ initially demonstrates the same kind of arrogance and self-absorption that got him into conflicts back in L.A. But he also discovers the world of stepping, both a new form of dance for him and a cultural tradition going back to the establishment of the first black Greek Letter fraternities and sororities in the early 1900s during the Harlem Renaissance. He becomes determined to help his chosen fraternity, Theta Nu Theta, end a seven-year long losing streak against their rivals Mu Gamma Xi, and to win the heart of co-ed April Palmer (played beautifully by Megan Good). His efforts take him through an inspiring rites of passage during which he learns a great deal about his ancestral legacies and the advantages of sometimes working as part of a team rather than thinking only of himself.
The culminating dance competitions in Stomp the Yard have to be seen to be believed and rank among the best in cinema history. Ultimately, this film is one that stands alongside "You've Been Served," "Drumline," and others that accentuate the life-affirming power and beauty of many African-American college traditions. In the process, it confirms and celebrates that same potential in all human beings.
by Author-Poet Aberjhani, author of The Bridge of Silver Wings and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
Astounding Angels of the Wingless Kind
Are there any who fall, when they fall, quite so hard as angels do? Going by the scenario in Australian director Shane Abbess' extraordinary noir metaphysical drama Gabriel, the answer would have to be a loud "No!" As they battle in human form for control over the middle earth region of Purgatory, where human souls dwell in limbo before descending to hell or ascending to heaven, these angels use the f-word in more ways than one, revel in rebellion and debauchery by the ton, and fire blazing automatics with more deadly intent than a. S.W.A.T. team or gang bangers looped on crack.
And yet the independent film maker's skillful balance between Purgatory mayhem and heavenly transcendence is a finely rendered one. As he drops dreamlike from heaven to non-heaven, the archangel Gabriel ponders the fact that he is on his way to do battle in a spiritual war zone where six fellow archangels have already dared to tread but apparently failed. He is a last chance, hoping to succeed where even the mighty angel-warrior Michael has not.
Newcomer Andy Whitfield does a more than competent job as Gabriel and makes it easy to empathize with his divine anguish as he adjusts to his mortal form, seeks out his wounded angelic comrades, and launches full force into martial arts and handgun combat. Dwayne Stevenson as the manically rebellious Sammael, and one-time mentor of Gabriel, provides a powerful villainous contrast. The film progresses between scenes of healing and reunion, to those of explosive one-on-one clashes reminiscent of the most enthralling gangster-film gun battle sequences. The ending is not only unpredictable in regard to a painful choice that Gabriel makesit is also for some viewers disturbing and controversial.
Considering the obstacles that Shane Abbess and company had to overcome to make this amazing independent film, you have to give the production team and cast credit for getting it done at all. When looking, however, at the small miracle they achieved while working with so little, it becomes difficult not to imagine how much they might have accomplished working with more.
by Author-Poet Aberjhani, author of "The Bridge of Silver Wings" and "Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance"
Children of Men (2006)
A Thoroughly Chilling Yet Profoundly Inspiring Movie
Frightening movies tend to be scariest when they make us consider the possibility that the movie's fictional story might one day become reality. That's the kind of fear factor we have to confront in this masterpiece called "Children of Men." Because it is set some 20 years in the future, the movie has to be categorized as science fiction or possibly prophetic fiction. But the most science fictional element it contains is its well-known premise that the last child is born in 2009 and we human beings find ourselves approaching almost certain extinction until a miraculous pregnancy occurs in 2027. Everything else in the movie is too plausible for comfort.
Although the P.D. James novel on which this film is based was first published in 1992, it could just as easily have been penned last year to provoke discussions on the current state, and possible fate, of the world as we know it in 2008. Issues such as conflicts over illegal immigration, nuclear war, public anarchy, and overwhelming personal angst dominate this film. Depending on which side of the political and nationalist fence one stands on, these elements may or may not appear to be exaggerated.
Clive Owens as Theo Faron, Claire-Hope Ashitey as Kee, Michael Caine as Jasper, and Julianne Moore as Julian Taylor each portray characters that history seems at first to have tossed aside. Theo, Jasper, and Julian have all seen stronger days as youthful rebels but it is the innocent-yet-not-so-innocent Kee who revitalizes their lives and the world's hope with her phenomenal pregnancy. The term "immaculate" does not apply here. As they struggle and sometimes die to literally keep hope alive, history turns them into incredibly flawed, wounded, and mesmerizing heroes.
Dystopian in its visionary outlook, "Children of Men" contains scenes that are agonizingly ugly followed by scenes that are intoxicatingly beautiful. Those who have read James' novel know that director Alfonso Cuaron took creative liberties with its adaptation to the big screen. Most agree that the liberties taken did the book justice. There are several excellent commentaries on the DVD--one comes from philosopher and social critic Slavoj Zizek, who states: "Only films like this will guarantee that cinema as art will really survive." That's of course if films like this remain fiction and real-life artists like Cuaron survive the chaos of modern times well enough to continue making them.
by Aberjhani, author of "The Bridge of Silver Wings"
The World through the Eyes of "Borat" and Sacha Baron Cohen
Chances are this poet was pulling double duty when the English comic Sacha Baron Cohen shot footage of his character 'Borat'� in my hometown of Savannah, Georgia. At the time, several years ago, I was completing the "Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance" while also serving as a caregiver. What do you suppose Mr. Cohen was busy doing? Basically he was serving up his unique brand of cultural satire by walking fully suited, with cameraman in tow, into a shower room full of totally unclothed Savannah Gnats baseball team members. That particular footage wound up on Cohen's 'Da Ali G Show'� DVD, featuring his portrayal of the wanna-be Jamaican Londoner gangsta rapper: Ali G. Since I missed greeting Cohen when he visited my fair city (as well as Atlanta, Charleston, and other southern venues) writing a review of his outrageously iconoclastic movie, 'BORAT, Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,'� seems like a southerly hospitable thing to do to make up for it.
As I watched 'BORAT, Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,'� I squirmed with discomfort, scowled in outrage, and laughed my western civilized butt off. What I didn't understand was why. The answer came later just as I was drifting off to sleep and the following thought popped into my head: Sacha Baron Cohen, as Borat, only appears on the surface to ridicule Women, Jews, and African Americans''and also seems to make light of such serious issues as incest, homophobia, and extreme social retardation. Beneath that hilarious surface he is actually lampooning the real-world bigotry, ignorance, and hypocrisy that pushed the global village into the state of chaos it occupies today. (Please note that Cohen himself is Jewish and often uses his grandmother's praise of his humor as defense for his crude and brazen style of satire.) It is Cohen's gift as a performer that he can project, at the same time, both a relatable sense of vulnerability and an excruciating sense of offensiveness. We can call that genius but we can also call it true to life.
At its ground zero level, this movie is satire of the highest and most deadly kind because it does more than simply exploit subconscious fears and social taboos. It smashes them right in the viewer's face, such as when Borat excuses himself from the dinner table of his genteel white South Carolina hosts only to return with his refuse in a bag. As if that is not enough to freak out this good-old-boy family, he invites a black prostitute (played by the beautiful Luenell) to join them and is promptly evicted from the house along with her.
Or take for an equally scandalous example the now infamous naked wrestling scene with Borat and Azamot (courageously played by Ken Davitian). It would have been enough for most viewers to see the two knock each other out and then watch the movie fade to another scene. But that would have restricted the nude battle royal to the hotel room and our naked clowns would not have been able to literally show their asses in public''as some people tend to do with their clothes on.
Like Monty Python, Peter Sellers, Saturday Night Live alumni, and Richard Pryor before him, Cohen is a master satirist who takes no prisoners. 'Borat'� the character may be an innocent Kazakhstanian abroad in America, but Sacha Baron Cohen the man is clearly a critical observer of humanity intent on exposing the laughable and the painful absurdities of what is supposed to be our civilized technologically-enhanced modern life.
As a writer, one has to admire Cohen's ability to create fascinating characters and build entire movies around them. Borat is only one of three cultural types that he has unleashed utilizing the machinery of Hollywood hype running at full throttle. Although often annoying to the extreme, his Ali G character was appealing enough to help pave the way for the movie Borat to gross some $259 million dollars to date. With that kind of box office power, what's the reaction likely to be when his gay Austrian fashion-critic character of Bruno takes over the big screen? Before answering too quickly, it might be worth considering that Cohen reportedly has already signed a $42.5 million deal with Universal Pictures for the film. Like him or hate him, Cohen has proved himself a committed artist with no intention either of starving or being ignored.
by Aberjhani,author of "Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance"
A Golden Victory for an Extraordinary Film
So many superlatives can be applied to CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER that it's difficult to assess the movie without sounding totally biased and over the top. Few films have achieved the level of sheer visual beauty as this one with its interior shots of Chinese palace walls and columns illuminated by glowing hues of gold, emerald, and ruby. Few also have managed to weave the threads of so many tangled tortured relationships into such a spellbinding masterpiece of tragedy.
The seductive visual beauty of this film's set and costumes makes a powerful contrast to the deadly schemes and betrayals that motivate the leading characters, members of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 BC). Just as the viewer finds him- or herself starting to feel sorry for one character--for example the Empress who is being tortured by her husband, or the Emperor who has been scandalously betrayed by his wife--it turns out that nobody is 100 percent innocent, not even the youngest of the royal family's three sons. If there's one great exception to the royal family's collective guilt, it would be the second son, Prince Jai, played with nobility and charisma by Chinese pop star Jay Chou. Having proved himself on the battlefield as a worthy contender for the throne, Prince Jai returns home only to find himself agonizingly torn between loyalty to his mother and father. The sacrifice he makes in the end turns out to be the most brutal tragedy of all.
Yun Fat Chow as the Emperor and Gong Li in the role of the Empress give incredible performances as a couple whose love has long died but who remain together for the sake of political convenience. Behind their beautiful clothes, lavish furnishings, and perfectly choreographed movements, the two calmly seek each others' destruction. Yun Fat Chow's and Li's performance are on par with that of the world's best Shakespearean actors and the story of CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER itself can be compared to a combination of "King Lear" and "Oedipus Rex." One begins to truly appreciate the challenges directors face when considering the titanic logistics director Zhang Yimou had to deal with in order to make this film. Imagine the precision of detail and control it took to go, as he does with the movie, from one scene of dozens of beautiful feudal-era women waking and preparing to work in the palace, to another later on of a thousand warriors in gold armor charging against another thousand warriors in metallic black. With its brilliant storyline, glorious production, and extraordinary performances, CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER stands as a major triumph of modern film-making.
by Aberjhani, author of "The Bridge of Silver Wings"
The Bittersweet Taste of Love and Addiction
I watched the movie "Candy" because the description on back of the DVD made me think it might have something significant to say about how poets manage to cultivate their creative gifts in the face of the world's harsh and often unforgiving realities. It was actually more about fueling delusions of escape from those realities through drug addiction and placing more burdens on love than it can sometimes bear.
At the center of this brilliantly artful and emotionally powerful drama are the young hopeful artist named Candy and the would-be poet Dan. Both are emotionally damaged individuals who lead each other through a nightmare maze of drug addiction into a junkie's hell of destitution, prostitution, theft, and death.
The film, based on Luke Davies' novel, does raise some important questions about how much we can or should expect from an individual's capacity for love. The subject is one more and more artists seem to be examining these days. Creative acts of poetry--such as actually writing, performing spoken word, being inspired, etc.--do not make up the core of this extraordinary film. BUT: the soul-numbing angst suffered by the principle characters does build to one dynamic slam of a poem that makes real artistic and spiritual sense out of Candy's and Dan's horrible personal ordeal.
Actress Abbie Cornish absolutely astounds in her portrayal of the title character. The exceptionally gifted Heath Ledger provides yet another off-the-chain performance that demonstrates why he's destined to eventually win the Academy Award that eluded him for "Brokeback Mountain." Other ensemble members, including the phenomenal Oscar-winning Geoffrey Rush, Noni Hazlehurst, and Tony Martin, are never anything less than perfect in their supporting roles.
by Aberjhani, author of "I Made My Boy Out of Poetry"
Blood Diamond (2006)
Riveting History and Mesmerizing Film-making
Fascinating history does not always make exciting compelling film but in the case of "Blood Diamond" it does. This is good news in the sense that the movie delivers big time on all levels: fantastic action, intense emotional drama, and provocative political excitement. It is bad news in the sense that viewers can become so caught up in the sheer entertainment qualities of this amazing movie that we forget the brutal truth behind the story.
That the people of Sierra Leone throughout the 1990s were enslaved, raped, mutilated, and driven out of their homeland all for the sake of placing diamonds on the hands of the rich and to finance military chaos in one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world is something we should never forget. Having noted that particular point, it's impossible to deny that both Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou fully earned and deserved their respective Oscar nominations for "Blood Diamond." The overall script takes on a great deal of social and moral responsibility.
In addition to its exposure of the atrocities that have left Sierra Leone a permanently scarred country, "Blood Diamond" also illustrates just how deeply intertwined are the history and the future of Blacks and Whites on the continent of Africa. In a way, the same may be said of the history and future of the relationship between Africa and the world.
by Aberjhani, author of "Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File Library of American History)
The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Shockingly Absurd and Profoundly Brilliant
Anyone who caught Forest Whitaker as jazz great Charlie Parker in the Clint Eastwood directed "Bird" (1988) may easily have found themselves thinking, "Wow, an actor with that kind of genius is bound to win an Oscar one day!" But who could have guessed that it might be for Whitaker's titanic portrayal of the former Ugandan President Idi Amin in the riveting film THE LAST KING OF Scotland? A too-quick assessment of this film might make a viewer think it's one more good movie about a larger-than-life ruler seduced and corrupted by power. A second welcomed study reveals that it's actually a great movie about not one, but two men seduced and corrupted by the lures of power. Idi Amin is definitely one of them but so is the Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan, played with wonderful naivety and passion by James McAvoy.
For Idi Amin, as portrayed here, the seduction is irresistible and ultimately self-destructive because of a need to rise above the humiliations of his past and to meet the demands of a changing Africa. Garrigan finds himself seduced by power largely because Amin makes it available to him when he adopts the Scottish native as his personal physician, only to increasingly demand he serve as a top political adviser. Instead of refusing to give advice he's neither informed enough nor trained to provide, Garrigan enjoys being flattered to the point that he boldly has an affair with Kay Amin, the president's wife, played by the stunning Kerry Washington. Consequently, one moment he is embracing Amin as a father figure, and in the next he is suffering the kind of brutal fate no one likes to imagine.
"The Last King of Scotland" swings brilliantly back and forth between shocking absurdity and outright tragedy. It's easy enough to see toward the film's beginning that Amin is a leader with true love for his people. Yet it becomes equally apparent as the film progresses that his private terrors and political wrath are at least as monumental as any love he holds. To blend such a range of psychological extremes with credibility that evokes both outrage and even, at times, empathy, is not a feat that many actors could have pulled off, but lo and behold: Mr. Whitaker did.
News coming out of Uganda during the 1970s invariably presented Amin as a bloodthirsty dictator allowed to run amok with his heinous inclinations unchecked before finally being exiled to Saudi Arabia. "The Last King of Scotland," based on Giles Foden's novel, gives us a more complete portrait of a very complex man and country.
by Aberjhani, author of "Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance"