Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Saddam Corleone Soprano Montana Hussein does Shakespeare

WB always knew there was something weird about the whole pas de deux danced by Saddam Hussein with each George Bush (Sr. and Jr.) he faced. Even though the U.S. may have played the parts of liberator (Sr.) and invader (Jr.), diplomat (Sr.) and rootin' tootin' cowboy (guess), the man they both faced as their enemy was a gangster starring in a tragedy of Shakespearean proportion — or at least that's the Iraqi leader's depiction in HBO's House of Saddam.

Like Don Vito Corleone, the Saddam HBO portrays is the patriarch of an extended family of younger, aspiring gangsters who may or may not be plotting to take his position. Like the Godfather, Saddam tries to follow the principle of "only business, nothing personal," which is difficult when every aspect of the "business" is run by family members.

Like Tony Soprano, the HBO Saddam is capable of cold and methodical violence, even while turning on the charm. There are some who loathe him, but their loathing is kept in check by the fact that they fear him even more. Like Tony, Saddam sometimes grows weary of running his empire of crime, but he has no one to turn to except his blond goomah, who eventually becomes his second wife, and who has power aspirations of her own.

Like Tony Montana, Saddam rises to the top of a crime empire so vast that it spins out of control when he's forced to kill those he loves and keep himself deluded that defeat is victory. But while Scarface's "down in a blaze of glory" demise comes after Tony buries his nose in a mountain of cocaine, Saddam's comes after burying his in a snootful of dirt in a pathetic underground hiding spot.

Like King Lear, Saddam's pronunciations and decisions have significant impact on his daughters' lives. Like Hamlet, many who surround Saddam know that he dispatched the previous ruler under false pretense, but they take no action. Like Othello, Saddam is driven mad by his desire, not for a woman but for a nation that his misplaced and psychotic passion destroys.

So, what's the lesson here? Mostly that governments are scarily similar to mob families, and that the top gangsters in each organization are engaged in the same pursuit: to show the other gangsters what happens if they try to get in the way of family business. In other words, House of Saddam is totally familiar material — which makes it totally engaging. Imagine sitting in a man-cave with seven 50-inch TVs playing The Godfather (parts one and two), The Sopranos, Scarface, King Lear, Hamlet (the Mel Gibson version), and Othello (the Laurence Fishburn version) all at once.

But then don't forget to also imagine how overwhelming the same experience was for the real-life audience of the real-life Saddam Hussein's mad power grab. For every enraged Tony Montana spraying bullets from an arsenal of giant guns, there are bodies falling who had nothing to do with any of it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Last paragraph is the most important here. HBO's Saddam elicits a degree of empathy, but that is a weird experience. Even though he isn't responsible for 9/11, we know he was a bad bad man.

But he's also human. What he was capable of doing, all humans are capable of doing. Power corrupts.