THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND

3 Stars - Thought Provoking

No period of history has witnessed more bloodshed than the 20th century. The systematic destruction of peoples of the world under the evil mind of Hitler is the most notable.  But when it comes to genocides, Hitler was only one leader among many.  In the late 20th century, the African President of Uganda, Idi Amin, became a symbol of madness, killing over 300,000 of his tribesmen before fleeing to Saudi Arabia where he died in 2003.

In the “Last King of Scotland,” a young doctor, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) travels by chance to Uganda from his home in Scotland just prior to a military takeover of the government. Within days of his arrival, army General Idi Amin (Forrest Whitaker) seizes the Presidency and the army takes control of the country. Nicholas has come to Uganda with the idealistic dream of helping the poor by volunteering at a medical mission. In a moment of circumstance that will change his life, Nicholas is
compelled to help the new President who has been in an automobile accident when traveling near the mission.

Amin is impressed with the brashness with which the young doctor takes charge at the scene of the accident.  To his surprise, Nicholas is pressed into service to become the personal physician of the President and, ultimately, to become one of his closest advisors.  This choice is fueled to some extent by Idi Amin’s fascination with all things Scottish.  (Although the story of Nicholas’ is fiction, the real Idi Amin at times had his Army march in Scottish garb.)

What follows is semi-fictional story of the disintegration of an idealistic President into one of the most evil dictators in recent history.  President Amin in real life began as a social and political reformer but over time devolved into a paranoid demigod.  His fears led to irrational purges of his own countrymen, including the people closest to him.  In the end, even young Nicholas must face the brutality of Amin’s wrath.

What transforms idealism into evil?  This film suggests it is the toxic combination of power and personal ego.  When pandering for position and ego adulation become a daily diet it can be intoxicating.  When someone begins to believe that the government is all about themselves personally the stage is set for a tragedy.

Just as importantly, this film also explores how those who have influence on the person in power maintain clarity and purpose.  Like young Nicholas, most of us are numb to the destructive motivations of people in power.  We hope that minor course corrections will steer the leader in the right direction.  Often, the more difficult prophetic observations come with a heavy cost of loss of job or worse.

Creating a culture of accountability around all positions of power is critical to the health of any organization or country.  When the external cultural, religious, or social structures of accountability are compromised or weaken, then it is only a matter of time until the most invulnerable personal or government disintegrates like the last King of Uganda.

 

Discussion:

  1. Have you ever experienced power which so affected you that you changed?  In what ways did you change?  How did you deal with the toxic combination of power and ego?
  2. Have you ever been close to a person in power who lost their moral footing and you needed to speak into their life.  How did you do that?  What was the outcome?
  3. When evil is done by a leader we were following, the temptation is to close our eyes and simply not see it.  Has this ever happened to you?  How did your eyes become opened?
  4. The checks and balances of government are there to not only protect the people but the leaders themselves.  However, when persons in power change those checks and balances so they are no longer accountable then the whole government or organization is in danger.  Have you seen this?  What did you do?  What do you wish you had done?