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This Last King of Scotland Scene Brilliantly Portrays Paranoia

Jan 19, 2023


Forest Whitaker delivered a performance of a lifetime as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, exemplified by a nerve-shaking post-assassination scene that is a glorious cinematic representation of madness and paranoia. With exemplary camerawork, Kevin Macdonald frames the reality of the country’s brutal massacres through the eyes of Amin’s fictional personal physician, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy). In its entirety, the picture is a wonderful exercise of subjectivity in film, with its dizzying cuts and quickfire transitions taking the viewers into the power-hungry leader’s own shoes as he revels in his insecurity.

What is ‘The Last King of Scotland’ About?
Nicholas Garrigan, a fresh medical graduate from the University of Edinburgh, is bored by the career opportunities at his home in Scotland. Seeking adventure and a change of atmosphere, Garrigan decides to pick a random country to practice his profession and chooses the African country Uganda as his destination. As he soaks in the cultural shift, Garrigan acquaints himself with the newly installed president of the country Idi Amin by treating his hand from an accidental injury. Hostile at first, Amin softens his tone when he finds out that the physician is Scottish, and grows fond of him.

Garrigan becomes his closest adviser and wallows in the comfort of the riches Amin grants him. After surviving an assassination attempt, however, Amin gradually becomes overly suspicious of everything and grows to distrust everyone in his regime. Doing himself no favors, Nicholas entangles himself in an affair with one of Amin’s wives, Kay (Kerry Washington), resulting in her pregnancy. The dictator soon finds out, mutilates Kay, and orders Garrigan to be executed. With the help of one of his fellow physicians in Amin’s hospital, he escapes as part of the passengers freed in the Entebbe Raid, bringing with him the harrowing stories of death and destruction in the East African country.

Image Via Fox Searchlight Pictures

There Are Two Sides to Amin, But His Vicious Side Is Stronger
One of the strengths of the film is Whitaker’s award-winning depiction of Amin, and how his personality is basically split into two sides of the same vicious coin. On one hand, Amin is friendly, charismatic, and an individual that represents freedom from decades of oppression. He is a guy you would enjoy having a few drinks with, much like the next-door neighbor you love sharing pleasantries with in the morning. On the other, he is a ruthless murderer who would burn entire villages without a second thought. As The Last King of Scotland progresses, however, his affable side slowly disintegrates, leaving only the blood-curdling despot whose eyes twitch every time he gets a whiff of suspicion. It is a testament to Whitaker’s dedication to the role, and his terrifying aura flowing outside the confines of the silver screen enough for audiences to feel his wrath.

This fear-inducing quality of the protagonist is heightened by the picture’s cinematography. Whenever Amin breaks into his Mr. Hyde-ish transformation into the mass-murdering tyrant, there is a significant change in the way the images are framed. The camera shakes, distorting the viewers with just enough movement to induce a feeling of being disturbed. It is an artistic display of subjectivity, making the audience feel the same emotions as the character they see on screen. The film is riddled with these peeks into the mind of Amin, but it is in perhaps the most pivotal scene of the movie, the aftermath of his failed assassination, where the film truly puts his shoes on the feet of those watching.

RELATED: How ‘The Thing’ Got the Paranoia of a Divided Nation Right

The Camera Draws the Audience Into Amin’s Paranoia
As a reward for Garrigan’s loyalty, together with a strengthening bond of friendship, Amin gifts his personal physician a car. Garrigan is absolutely floored by this show of generosity, and Amin asks him to ride the car together with him. As they drive to the airport, the pair are ambushed by a group of men, assumed to be overthrown president, Milton Obote’s, people. Bullets rain on the car containing his bodyguards, where Amin was thought to be located. Miraculously, the two escape and they retreat to a military base shocked and reeling from a near-death encounter.

Fate was definitely on their side, as Amin proudly tells again and again that he cannot be killed yet, owing to a prophecy he received in a dream. With a fuming Amin as the main focus, The Last King of Scotland begins a masterclass of a sequence of subjectivity. The subsequent images are shaky, with handheld shots growing more and more frequent. Amin angrily suspects that it was Obote who planned the attack. In the middle of this bitter diatribe, the cinematography takes over and embellishes the screen with cinematic nausea. Amin’s words act as subtitles to the camera’s vertiginous activity, bemoaning that “someone has betrayed” him, and that he is “surrounded by traitors.”

Image Via Fox Searchlight Pictures

As he finishes each phrase, the picture frenetically cuts to separate reels of his own men, signifying that he is beginning to lose trust in the ones who swore to protect him. The camera now pans violently, passing by a distraught Garrigan, until Amin gains sight of Masanga, his head of security. He notices that his minister of health, Jonah Wasswa, is missing, immediately suspecting him of conspiring with his enemies. He asks Garrigan where he is, and when the doctor reasonably does not know where he is, Amin is gravely disappointed. As these events transpire, the shots continue to be hazy, shifting quickly from subject to subject, with close-ups so deep that one can see the finer details of their skin. In a short amount of time, the scene has managed to both terrify and include the audience in Amin’s wave of uncomfortable senses.

These shots are not just purposely bewildering in their nature. They also possess a calculating character, with every frame carrying a heft of significance. Each time the camera shakes, we are shifted between the states of mind of a petrified doctor way out of his element, and an oppressive killer just waiting to vanquish his foes. With every shift of perspectives, the subjects grow ever distant, and their numbers continually increase. The plethora of feverish movements of the camera becomes a kaleidoscope of brewing threats, the hues of both friends and enemies becoming a concoction of colors that are impossible to distinguish. Isn’t this the state of paranoia? A multitude of delusional threats materializing in one’s mind that lingers on even in your sleep?

With premeditated twists and turns of the lens, The Last King of Scotland manages to present a vivid cinematic image of what it means to be paranoid. There are no expensive effects needed, no over-indulgent overlaps of sequences. It is fascinating to witness such a tumultuous feeling through the medium of film, and it is in the simplicity of its execution where it becomes a marvel. With each rewatch of Idi Amin’s breakdown into desperation, the audience is transported to a state of turbulence. Hopefully, it is a feeling that they only experience in the movies.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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