The Redemption of General Buttnaked - Featured

The Redemption of General Butt Naked Review

In recorded history, the intertwining on religion and warfare is undeniable. Whether it’s a war borne from some sense of divine right or someone finding God in a foxhole, the two hotly debated subjects are often talked about with equal parts reverence, relief, sadness, and sometimes hatred. The constantly in conflict concepts make the story of Joshua Milton Blahyi a difficult one to peg down. In Daniele Anastasion and Eric Strauss’ documentary The Redemption of General Butt Naked (a favourite with the Hot Docs 2011 crowd), the filmmakers examine a man who has found God but who might have been so notorious that no amount of divine salvation could ever help in this life or the next.

During the bloody 1989-96 Liberian Civil War, Blahyi was the titular commander and leader of a band of naked commandos (since they believed they were all mentally and spiritually faster unclothed) that was responsible for the death of approximately 20,000 people during the bloody conflict. In 2008 after having reformed his ways and found God, Blahi has become an evangelist intent on reforming the very soldiers he enlisted – many of whom were only children during the conflict and now have become homeless drug addicts or criminals – and searching for forgiveness from every person he wronged due to his wickedness.

It should go without saying that many people who had loved ones murdered at the hand of Milton’s ever present cutlass don’t think very highly of him and are understandably sceptical of his motives with an upcoming tribunal coming up that could see him facing war crimes charges for the first time. The question at the heart of Anastasion and Strauss’ film surrounds Blahy’s true motives. Is he really taking responsibility for his own actions or is he simply making a heavily veiled plea for leniency now that the country attempts to face its horrific past head on?

Despite the obvious moral and ethical connumdrums, it’s hard not to see Blahyi’s pure magnetism; the kind that only a true leader can possess. He speaks with passion both about his old life and his new life. He gets riled up in front of a crowd like a great speaker should, but he also can transport himself back to a darker time with remarkable lucidity and candor. Sequences where the filmmakers follow him to confront families and victims (including talks with his former bodyguard who got both of his legs shot off for being inattentive) and a talk with his new wife about their family show some degrees of humility, but with a body count as large as his it’s hard to fathom the amount of forgiveness that can be bestowed upon him. By that same token, another question the audience have to ask themselves is if in a country still feeling the sting of tribal violence is it valuable to have someone of Milton’s stature advocating for change?

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No matter one’s personal feelings towards the subject or his atrocities, the film still offers viewers and interesting and at times purposefully uncomfortable experience. It places the viewer in the hands of a supposedly reformed madman relaying his story first hand, but it never renders judgement or says that his current ministry is a good idea. It’s a balanced and complex look at a form of sorrow that few of us could ever possibly comprehend and it offers a lot to think about long after it’s over.

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