Uday Hussein’s Wretched, Tyrannical Existence

by Nathan on January 16, 2012

(The Devil’s Double theatrical poster – Source: Wikipedia)

Suppose you live in a country where you have practically unlimited money and power. You can do whatever you want and not have to pay any real consequences for your actions. You have the power of life and death over the people in your country and can make anyone do what you want. How would you act? Would you act justly or abuse your power? Perhaps you would take just a few liberties? And with such power would you ultimately be happy?

Uday Hussein, the eldest son and heir apparent of Saddam Hussein, had such power. With his father as president and dictator, harnessing complete unadulterated power over the country, Uday had the entire nation of Iraq as his playground. He had a huge underground parking garage dedicated solely to his luxury car collection, including Rolls-Royces and Lamborghis, valued at over $200,000 a piece. It was reported that he had millions of dollars worth of fine wines, liquors, cigars, and narcotics. He had the finest things on earth and lived one of the most opulent lifestyles imaginable.

But he didn’t just indulge himself in material possessions that he purchased from Iraq’s immense oil wealth. He exercised, to the utmost degree, the power he held over other human beings. If there was a woman that he wanted, he would simply kidnap and rape her. If someone affronted his honor – such as a troop that didn’t salute him – he would murder him on the spot. Uday’s brutal antics ruined so many lives that he was hated terribly throughout the country. The hatred of him was so bad that there were many attempts on his life. It was becoming too risky for him to even show his face in public. However, as the president’s son and Iraq’s presumed future leader, he had to maintain a public persona.

To solve the conundrum – between maintaining the necessities of a public life despite a looming threat of assassination – he enlisted a body double, or fedai, to make his public appearances for him.

The 2011 film Devil’s Double follows the life of Latif Yahia, a young man who would for the better part of 10 years serve as Uday’s body double. Remembering that it was remarked that Latif, his classmate in grade school, had a striking resemblance to him, Uday pulled Latif from the frontlines of the Iran-Iraq War. After torture and threats to his family, Latif reluctantly agrees to the job. With a little plastic surgery, a pair of fake teeth, and a close studying of Uday’s mannerisms, Latif indeed becomes his mirror image.

The film naturally benefits from the superb dual performance of British actor Dominic Cooper, who plays both Uday and Latif. The dichotomy that he presents between the lives of Uday and Latif is quite striking. Latif was a humble soldier in the Iraqi Army, serving his country in a war that Uday’s father embarked the nation upon. Uday, in the meantime, has been gallivanting around the country, breaking every law and religious custom imaginable. When Latif (thought to be Uday) was shown a video of sub-performing Iraqi Olympic athletes being tortured, he puzzled his fellow viewers by his squeamishness – apparently Uday would have reveled in such footage.

More interesting than the stark dichotomy between the two was the transformation in Latif. As Uday’s body double, Latif was exposed to all the privileges of Uday’s lifestyle and some of his power.  The temptation on the human spirit of such power and privilege, even to such an honorable man as Latif, is great. While not committing any crimes or anything outrageous, Latif does seem to at times enjoy the luxury offered to the body double of Uday. In fact, he even begins a very risky relationship with Uday’s favorite mistress. But in the end, Latif doesn’t succumb to such temptations. He maintains his abhorrence of Uday and all he stands for, the atrocities building upon one another until finally Latif decides that Uday must be killed.

Uday Hussein was a modern embodiment of a tyrant. He had total power and exercised it ruthlessly. Constantly surrounded by flatterers and bodyguards who protected his ego and his person, he was completely detached from the reality that rank-and-file citizens had to confront. In one instance, after he graduated #1 in his class in engineering from Baghdad University, his professors scoffed that he in fact barely squeaked by. But it was the fear of his father’s influence that put Uday at the top of his class. Even Uday’s trusted top bodyguards hated him, despite the mask of flattery they wore day-in and day-out. One bodyguard – in the film at least – destroyed a tape of Latif making love to Uday’s top mistress, a sure death sentence for Latif. And another collaborated with Latif in the plot to assassinate Uday.

In Plato’s Gorgias and Republic, Socrates ruminates on the lives of tyrants. With all the power in the world, are they happy individuals? In one particularly poignant passage, speaking to Glaucon, Plato’s older brother, Socrates asks “Isn’t this a perfectly wretched condition [being a tyrant], and doesn’t the man who is a tyrant have a still harder life than the man judged by you to have the hardest life?” In other words, does the tyrannical lifestyle have such negative consequences that they greatly outweigh any such benefits? He quickly answers: “The real tyrant is, even if he doesn’t seem so to someone, in truth a real slave to the greatest fawning and slavery, and a flatterer of the most worthless men; and with his desires getting no kind of satisfaction, he shows that he is most in need of the most things and poor in truth, if one knows how to look at a soul as a whole. Throughout his entire life his is full of fear, overflowing with convulsions and pains, if indeed he resembles the disposition of the city he rules.”

So despite the millions of dollars at his disposal and his free reign in Iraq, Uday Hussein could not have been a truly happy man. After all, he needed to kidnap, torture, and threaten a man to be his body double, despite offering him all the riches and luxuries in the world. And even the entire concept of a body double in predicated upon fear: the fear of assassination. Uday (and Saddam) were targets of assassination because people wanted justice or revenge for the acts of tyranny that they committed throughout their reign. While bodyguards and security officers are necessary for all world leaders, body doubles certainly are not. Only those leaders who have to fear reprisals for their acts of brutal tyranny need to have body doubles to alleviate the risk to their person. What a wretched existence!

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