'MORE TO LIVE FOR' AND THE REDEMPTION OF GENERAL BUTT NAKED

More To Live For follows rock ‘n’ roll insurance man James Chippendale, Olympic athlete Seun Adebiyi and seminal tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker as they try to conquer leukemia. The Redemption of General Butt Naked tracks a commander as he changes from General Butt Naked, responsible for 20,000 deaths during the Liberian Civil War of 1996 to 2003, into evangelist Joshua Milton Blahyi. The first will tear your heart out. The second will wrack your brain to boot.

The key cure for leukemia is a bone marrow transplant costing about $1.5 million. The procedure is relatively painless, similar to giving blood. More tracks each man as he grapples with this illness, mobilizes communities to come up with a donor whose marrow is the requisite exact match, and recovers – or not. Chippendale, cured for 10 years, becomes a rock ‘n’ roll advocate for donor recruitment, Adebiyi is saved via a more complicated procedure – and Brecker, who in 2006 recorded the remarkable album Pilgrimage as he was fading, dies. Herbie Hancock, the great pianist who also worked on Pilgrimage, has the keeper line: “In his twilight, making music, to Brecker, meant turning poison into medicine.” You know what to do with More: become a donor.

How to resolve the issues Butt Naked raises is more challenging.

Blahyi is a persuasive evangelist who in finding God couldn’t believe the man who converted him evaded his bodyguard. So Blahyi shot the bodyguard in the legs, stuffing him into a barracks bathroom for a week without treatment. David Johnson became a double amputee. The treatment of bodyguard Johnson, aka “Senegalese,” is among the least of Blahyi’s barbarities.

Directors Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion hone in on Blahyi so sharply, they map a conflicted soul. Blahyi tells Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission he takes responsibility for 20,000 deaths, throwing into dangerously high relief the far more heinous warlord Prince Johnson. Blahyi – charismatic, convincing, caring – will spend the rest of his life seeking forgiveness from family members left over from the carnage that he, the father figure, and his Small Boys Unit – all naked, all drunk on romanticized Hollywood violence – inflicted on their failed state.

I don’t blame the pardoned Blahyi for going into exile in Ghana after warlords who were prosecuted vowed to kill him. I barely question the sincerity of his conversion from killer to healer. The rub is, Liberia didn’t prosecute every murderous one of them. What gives Butt Naked such power is the way it nails evil – and shows how ambiguous good can be.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.