Hotel Rwanda

[Screenshot]I have to appreciate film. Without it, I might never know a damn thing about history.

My knowledge of the Rwandan genocide was pretty fragmentary: I knew there were a lot of people getting killed out there, but I didn’t know why or by whom. This is pretty typical American complacency, I’m afraid. Hotel Rwanda managed to be educational, and interesting, without deviating too far from truth. It’s great when cinema can do that. The acting and cinematography were all superb, but what really made this one was the story, and some themes brought to the fore.

Two themes I found particularly involving were international inifference and the pointlessness of the genocide. This film doesn’t pull any punches in condemning the lackluster and cowardly overall international response, while praising those who do stand by their responsibilities (e.g. Sabena, the UNAMIR commaders). It’s refreshing to see our selfishness and blindness (yes, even my own) treated with the contempt it deserves, and contrasted with authentic decency. And it worked for me. The other theme I found somewhat mystifying but no less significant: it’s established early on that there’s not actually a racial distinction per se, or at least not one anyone can actually work out with any confidence (in a movie which wasn’t tied to reality, it would sure turn out that both Georges Rutaganda and General Bizimungu were actually Tutsis; real life, alas, does not always give us educational situational ironies). The genocide seemed, in a few key scenes, to be not so much about getting rid of the Tutsis for racial purity as killing them and then stealing their stuff. And that’s important. Nobody goes out and butchers their neighbors without a reason. Maybe the Interahamwe included authentic anti-utsi zealots, but an awful lot of the grief and death isn’t zealotry so much as good old-fashioned avarice.

There’s an inversion of the entire situation to be seen in the final scenes of the film as well, althoguh the inversion isn’t strictly symmetrical. The convoy driving against the tide of humanity? All those people going the other way are Hutu refugees, fleeing from a Tutsi army. Granted, the RPF didn’t commit atrocities even close to those prepetrated under the Interahamwe, but there’s a distressing symmetry between the eventual effects of the “bad guys'” regime and the “good guys'” liberation.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.


About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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