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The Last King of Scotland

by Karen Bentley

DVD TITLE: The Last King of Scotland
DIRECTOR: Kevin MacDonald
ACTORS: James McAvoy, Forest Whitaker, Gillian Anderson, Kerry Washington
SCREENPLAY: Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock (based on a novel by Giles
STUDIO: Fox Searchlight Pictures
RELEASE DATE: September 2006 (DVD released May 2007)
REVIEWER\'S SCORE: 5.0 (out of 5.0)
MESSAGE OF LOVE: We are powerful beings

The Last King of Scotland takes place in 1970 in Scotland and Uganda. It's the fictional story of a newly graduated Scottish MD named Nicholas Garrigan. Garrigan is a carefree, fun-loving young man who can't bear the suffocating prospect of going into family practice with his father, also an MD. So he takes off for Uganda to help David and Sarah Merrit, a doctor and wife who run a medical center for the poor. While there, Garrigan gives emergency treatment to Idi Amin, the new Ugandan president who's been injured in a car accident. Amin is impressed with Garrigan's bold confidence and recruits him to be his personal family physician. Garrigan is impressed by Amin's extraordinary charisma and his sense of purpose in serving and saving Uganda, so he takes the job. As time goes on, their mutual admiration turns to mutual hate. In the end, both Garrigan and Amin attempt to kill each other. Garrigan realizes that Amin deals with every problem the same way: by torturing and killing people. And Amin learns that Garrigan betrayed him by having a sexual relationship with one of his wives.

The Last King of Scotland reminds us we are powerful beings. Power is observed, expressed and experienced through our decisions because decisions always produce a result. Nicholas Garrigan shows how even mindless, unconscious decisions have power. He is unaware of his power, but this does not turn it off or turn it down. His power is still there, in the background, actively determining his experience and dynamically influencing the experience of others.

In their last scene together, Amin says to Garrigan, "Is there one thing you have done that is good? Do you think this was all a game? I will go to Africa, and I will play the white man with the natives. We are not a game, Nicholas. We are real...I think that your death will be the first real thing that's happened to you."

When Amin uses the word "real" he's referring to the fact that Garrigan lives in a way that's just for fun. Consequently, Garrigan mistakenly thinks the decisions he's making don't count because he's playing and having a grand adventure far from home. When Garrigan faces his own death and the death of others who are close to him, he realizes it all counts.

Garrigan makes many decisions that lead to his awakening: going to exotic Uganda instead of safe Canada; having casual sex with African women (which Amin calls taking milk from the cow without feeding it); making a pass at Sarah Merrit; leaving the Merrits and taking a cushier job working for Amin; insulting the British bureaucrat who later makes Garrigan "pay" for his arrogance; talking about the Health Minister to Amin, which results in the Health Minister’s death; getting Kay Amin pregnant, which results in her mutilation and death.

Because Garrigan is choosing his life experience through his decisions, he cannot possibly be a victim. Instead of perceiving him as helpless or powerless, we understand that Garrigan is the director of his own show. If we generalize Garrigan's experience to all people, we begin to see there are no victims in the world. There are only decisions and results of decisions. To judge anyone as a powerless victim is a subtle form of attack because this is not our truth.

When Garrigan tries to seduce Sarah Merrit, she responds by telling him, "My husband is a good man...It's just sometimes when you're with a very good man it makes you feel..." Then Garrigan finishes the sentence for her by saying "like shit." He understands what Sarah is trying to say because he gets the same feeling when he's with his father.

Tibetans believe you shouldn’t ever judge a situation because you never know when you're having good luck. The horrific experience with Amin serves Garrigan in a positive way because it corrects his misperception that the goodness of others makes you feel "like shit" or that goodness is undesireable. By the time Garrigan leaves Uganda, he discovers that harm to self and others is what really makes you feel bad, and the recognition of goodness in others leads to gratitude. Garrigan says "thank you" to the physician who saves him. It may be the first time in his life he is truly grateful for anything. Garrigan also realizes his father's way of life has value and he wants to return to Scotland and practice medicine with him.

Here in the United States we live in a victim culture where others are responsible for the outcome of our decisions. This strengthens the misperception that we are powerless beings and that our decisions don't count. Under this victim scenario, Amin is the evildoer. The torture and attempted murder of Garrigan is attributed to Amin’s extreme and violent nature. Can you see how the victim interpretation is unfair to Garrigan and takes something important away from him?

Director Kevin MacDonald tells a rich, deep story that will haunt you for a while. The casting is superb. Forest Whitaker "is" Idi Amin. One minute he's telling jokes and making inspirational speeches. The next minute he's a paranoid mass-murderer. Amin ruled from 1970-1979, killing over 300,000 Ugandans during this period. Whittaker won a much-deserved academy award for best actor plus numerous other awards for his multi-dimensional portrayal of Amin. James McAvoy "is" the Scotsman Nicholas Garrigan. He won an award for best upcoming actor and other worldwide nominations. Then there's Gillian Anderson, former co-star of The X-Files. With her long wavy blond hair and perfect British accent, she's almost unrecognizeable.

Karen Bentley is America’s Spiritual Reviewer. She reviews contemporary books

Karen Bentley is America’s Spiritual Reviewer. She reviews contemporary books and movies exclusively from a love-based perspective. For more information go to www.spiritualreviewer.com or www.karenbentley.com. Bentley can be reached at reviewer@spiritualreviewer.com

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Article Archives  This Month's Articles  Click Here for more articles by Karen Bentley
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