Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Redemption of General Butt Naked

Who is Joshua Milton Blahyi? That’s the confounding question at the heart of The Redemption of General Butt Naked, Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion’s disturbing documentary about the perilous path to reconciliation in post-civil war Liberia. Once a feared warlord known as General Butt Naked—he believed fighting naked made him invincible—Blahyi now travels through Liberia and beyond begging forgiveness of his former victims. Although the titular redemption suggests a clear arc for the film, the results are more complicated than straightforward salvation. Rather unsettlingly, the film posits that Blahyi’s spirituality is not so much a repudiation of his violence as an evolution of it. After all, his conversion to the righteous path began with the cold-blooded crippling of the bodyguard that allowed a priest in to see him. Even more pointed is one victim’s remark that the strength he displays during his sermon matches the strength she witnessed when he killed her husband. The man wears the face of both god and devil, masking a figure beyond comprehension—one that preaches love with the same nameless frenzy with which he practiced slaughter.