Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

In My Country


Shortly after Nelson Mandela got out of jail he and the government set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to do an extraordinary thing: They allowed many of the criminals of the previous regime to get off scot-free if they admitted what they had done, apologized to the victims and survivors, and could show they were “only following orders.” There is a great documentary to made about this (and maybe it’s already been made, but I haven’t heard of it), and a great fiction movie, too, like Hotel Rwanda … but this isn’t it. This really isn’t it. I could hardly believe it was made by John Boorman, of Deliverance and Hope and Glory. The direction is sloppy, the script trashy and utterly predictable, the acting is amateurish. Even the cinematography is boring and sleep-inducing. A crying shame, because so much could have been done. Juliette Binoche is an Afrikaner, Samuel L Jackson is a black American reporter covering the tribunals. He isn’t inclined to forgive, she thinks the TRC is the only hope for the country. The film indicates that she is the true African, in that she was born there and knows far more about Africa than he ever will. But she will never know what it’s like to be black.

There has to be a way to come at this material edgewise, without slapping you in the face with it all like a lecture, which is as far as this film ever goes. As an American, a westerner, and a man who was raised “Christian,” I find it hard to forgive, especially atrocities like those committed under white apartheid rule. “An eye for an eye,” that’s what I was brought up to believe. Not “love thy enemy as thyself.” Christians get to pick and choose that way, and the former has always made more sense to me. But I know in my gut that it’s the wrong way to go, at least some of the time. Maybe most of the time. I don’t think anyone would have forgiven Hitler. But should we forgive Tookie Williams? (My vote: NO. But I could be wrong.) The lack of forgiveness leads to a relentless cycle of revenge, which is what I and just about everyone else expected when the white government fell in South Africa. I was wrong, wrong, wrong (though only time will tell; there are still many problems to confront), and Nelson Mandela is a much wiser man than I am. But I knew that a long time ago.