Hollywood has finally released a feature film that takes place in Iraq but isn’t about the Iraq War. Lee Tamahori’s The Devil’s Double tells the story of Latif Yahia, a young Iraqi officer from a privileged family who is forced to become the body double of Saddam Hussein’s psychopathic son Uday. The Iran-Iraq war is raging when the story begins, and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait takes place midway through, but these conflicts are in the background, off screen. The film, based on a book written by the real-life Latif with the help of Karl Wendl, is not about war but about the depravity of the palace.
Uday Hussein pushes drug abuse, sex, and impulsive violence to their extremes. He doesn’t just blow cocaine up his nose; he snorts it off the tip of a dagger. He likes to kill people when he gets drunk and even disembowels one of his father’s best friends at a party. We see him prowling the streets of Baghdad in his sports car and abducting young girls in school uniforms—including one still wearing braces—and taking them back to his bedroom to drug and rape them. He rapes another woman on her wedding day while she is wearing her wedding dress; a few minutes later, he is annoyed when she throws herself off a balcony. The man is pure id, scoffing at the Muslim saying “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) and insisting that God never gave him anything. “Everything I want, I just take for myself,” he says. He sure does. “You should have been killed at birth,” his furious father says, holding him down and aiming a long curved sword at his genitals. You ought to know you’ve gone off the rails when Saddam Hussein is appalled by your behavior.