I expected this movie to be very difficult to watch, and it was. It tells a story of a very human tragedy, which occurred within my lifetime, and has echoes back to previous tragedies, and stories which have been passed down in my family. It tells it well, with lots of complexity and many layers and levels.
I will not describe the most difficult parts of the movie here, but I will give a brief overview of two aspects of the plot. The historical background, as given in the movie, is simple and familiar.
Europeans (in this case, Belgians) colonized Rwanda, an impoverished country about the size and population of the state of Maryland. In order to administer the colony, they divided the native population into ‘Tutsi’ and ‘Hutu’. The
division was described as ‘racial’, but the races were defined by such traits as width of nose, and minor variations in skin tone. In truth, the two populations could only be told apart by family name and identity cards. The Tutsi were put
in positions of authority. It is implied, but not stated, that the Hutu had suffered a great deal under the Tutsi regime. When the Belgian colonists left, the Hutu (immediately or eventually) took control, and began a regime of opression against the Tutsi. The Tutsi rebelled, and there was a violent war.
The picture painted of the international situation is grim. The rest of the world turns it’s back on the situation. UN spokespeople are given instruction not to use the word ‘genocide’ at any length, to be able to maintain neutrality.
Foreigners in the country, from churches, from the UN, from the Red Cross, are first overwhelmed by the situation and then recalled by their own governments.
In the face of this tragedy, one man, a Hutu who is married to a Tutsi woman, goes through a spiritual transformation. During the movie we watch his attitude grow and change.
His growth is reflected in his dialogue, and goes from “He’s not family, family is all that matters” – of a neighbor being beaten by the mob to “We will take care of them,” – to a priest who is evacuated, and forced to leave the orphans
in his care behind, and from “We can only save ourselves” to “I cannot leave these people to die”.
Paul Rusesabagina is depicted as a true hero, a man who saves over a thousand others from brutal and bloody murder. He does it through his courage, and through his cunning, and his understanding of human nature. When the world turns its back on Rwanda, he tells the refugees to call anyone they may know in the outside world, and to say goodbye; to send their voices through the phone, and grab that person, and to make it clear that, if the listener does nothing, the caller will die.
One of the most striking things about the movie, to me, was the realization that never once is this man depicted as so much as touching a weapon.