Monday, February 21, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

I have been a longtime admirer of Don Cheadle's work. He has always played interesting and well-drawn characters just on the edge of the movie screen. In Hotel Rwanda, however, Cheadle takes center stage and magnificently brings the tragedy of genocide to life. The internal conflicts of Paul Rusesabagina are brought masterfully unto the movie screen with a subtly and honesty that should make the Oscar voting for best actor a simple decision.

Particularly striking to me was how Paul's initial optimism in the empathy of the world is shattered in the face of cruel and benign neglect. In the film, the willful powerlessness of the west is symbolized by Nolte's character and remains a stinging indictment of the western indifference.

Having been engaged in a conversation about the issue of Biblical authority in light of the Canaanite conquest, the film was a visual and visceral reminder of why so many of us resist the presence of divinely sanctioned genocide. Add the current conversations about the accuracy and ideological impetus behind the composition of the book Joshua, and the question is only complicated. Can viewing this film place our view of the authority of scripture in a different light?

The most haunting line of the film comes from Joaquin Phoenix's character, a western journalist. When Paul expresses his hope that pictures and accounts of genocide would spur the west to action, the cameraman responds, "They will say, 'Oh God, how terrible.' And then they'll continue eating their dinners."