The Lady (2011)

 

 

 

Director:     .

Starring:     Michelle Yeoh (Aung San Suu Kyi), David Thewlis (Michael Aris), Jonathan Raggett (Kim Aris), Jonathan Woodhouse (Alexander Aris), Susan Wooldridge (Lucinda Philips), Benedict Wong (Karma Phuntsho), Agga Poechit (Tan Shwe), Donatienne Dupont (Marie-Laure Aris), Marian Yu (Daw Khin Kyi - the Mother).

Burmese opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi is arrested and held under house arrest for 15 of the 21 years from 1889 and 2010; she was separated from her family;  she is one of the world's most prominent political prisoners

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

Aung San Suu Kyi as a child asks her father to tell her a story.  So dad says he will tell her a story about when Burma was the Golden Land.  Burma was once covered with thick forests with lots of tigers and elephants. One day soldiers from far away came and stole all of the precious things of Burma.  This made Burma a very poor country. 

Rangoon 1947.  Daddy excuses himself to go to work.  He attends a political meeting with his advisers.  He talks about establishing a genuine democracy in Burma.  All of a sudden rebel soldiers burst into the meeting room and kill every man there with mostly automatic weapons.  A soldier delivers the bad news to his wife who starts crying.  Little Aung San Suu Kyi is asleep at the time. 

Oxford 1998.  Michael Aris, husband of Aung San Suu Kyi, goes in to see the doctor.  He has cancer and the doctor gives him from  five months to five years to live.  The doctor asks Michael if he wants him to telephone his wife to pick him up at the hospital?  Michael certainly wishes that could be possible, but his wife lives in Burma now. 

Despite the terrible news, Michael goes to teach his students.  He is a Senior Research Fellow in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies. 

At home, Michael takes out some old photos and looks through them.  He lingers over a group photo that includes his wife.  Michael is interrupted by the visit of his brother Anthony.  He explains to brother that he has prostate cancer, but he could live as long as five years.  Anthony asks if Suu will return to Oxford upon hearing the news?  Michael reminds his brother that Suu can't return from Burma, because if she ever leaves, they, the Burmese military, will never let her return to Burma.  Anthony bemoans the fact that Michael has not seen his wife for three whole years.  Suu can't return now because too much blood has been spilled and millions of people are counting on her. 

Flashback.   Suu is busy working sitting at the kitchen table.  Michael goes over to her and kisses her.  She is working on a biography of her father.

Oxford 1988.  The couple's two sons come home:  Kim and Alex.  After dinner, the television carries news about Burma.  Violence has erupted on the streets of Rangoon.  Students, taking part in a peaceful demonstration at Inya Lake, were mowed down by the authorities. The soldiers shot and killed students at point blank range.  [Inya Lake is the largest lake in Yangon (Rangoon), Burma (Myanmar), a popular recreational area for Yangonites, and a famous location for romance in popular culture. Located 6 mi (10 km) north of downtown Yangon, Yangon contains 4 million residents today and used to be the capital of Burma.]

The students are demanding an end to the military dictatorship that has been in place since 1962.  And yet, despite the repression, the student movement is rapidly gaining massive popular support. 

Suu gets a telephone call that her mother is in Rangoon General Hospital.  It is suggested she should come now to Burma.  Suu starts packing.  She tells Michael that her mother has had a stroke.  Her son asks her how long will she be away and she optimistically says maybe a week or two.  The family put her in a taxi and off she goes. 

At the airport in Rangoon, Uncle Leo picks Suu up.  On the way home, Leo says that the whole political uproar in Rangoon started when the General decided to ban any denomination that wasn't a multiple of nine  -- nine being his lucky number.  And the universities can't supply the students with lunch anymore. 

The Burmese authorities already know that Suu has landed in Burma.  They have men following her. 

Suu gets out of the car at the hospital and goes inside to see her mother, who seems, at least, to be in good spirits.  Suu sleeps on the floor at night. 

In the morning Suu is stunned to see more bloody students coming into the hospital.  She tries to help some of the students get into the hospital.  She looks outside to see a demonstration taking place and she sees that some of the students are holding up large photos of her father.  [Her father, Aung San, founded the modern Burmese army and negotiated Burma's independence from the British Empire in 1947; he was assassinated by his rivals in the same year.  Suu was born in 1945.]  

A military jeep with soldiers pulls up in front of the hospital.  The men run into the emergency room and start beating the students and dragging them out of the hospital.  A doctor protests against this treatment and a soldier shoots him dead. 
The guy has a red scarf around his neck and he tells the students:  "I wear the red scarf, I have the right to kill you."

Suu calls home to tell her husband that she is all right and that she misses him.  As soon as she starts to mention the student killings, the connection is temporarily lost.  When she talks about family matters the connection is restored.  Talk of the family coming to Burma to see her also leads to another temporary loss of connection.  And, finally, they lose the connection totally. 

Suu goes back to her old home down by the riverside.  There she is greeted by guardian Mon Mon caring for two grandchildren.  Mon Mon is very happy to see Suu.   A bit later Suu's mother is brought into the house by the ambulance men. 

A young student has a message for Suu from her husband:  their visas have finally come through.  They will be arriving at the end of the week.  Mon Mon rushes into the room to tell Suu that a group of writers have come to see her.  They say these are very crucial times and there is so much to discuss.  Suu invites them into her home. 

The chairman of the government goes into see a fortune teller.  He says he is surrounded by adversity.  He then asks if he should kill this woman who has come abroad to cause trouble in his country?  The woman tells him:  "A spirit is even more dangerous if it becomes a ghost."  She adds:  "If the country is at peace, it won't need the spirit."  The spirit will go back to where it came from.

Michael and the boys arrive at the Rangoon airport.  Uncle Leo picks them up and takes them to Suu.  The family members are all very happy to see each other.  Suu warns her husband that he had better be prepared for complete chaos in the house.  Michael sees a large room filled with people talking with each other in small groups. 

Michael goes to pay his respects to his mother-in-law. 

At night the chairman says that he will resign.  There will be a referendum on Burma's political future.  The viewers in the room are very happy to hear the news. 

Members of the history faculty of the university come to tell Suu that they believe she is the only person who can lead Burma into democracy now.  The people will unite behind her as the daughter of Aung San.  She starts saying her hands are full with her family.  The speaker for the faculty asks her to take some time to consider the situation.  Suu agrees to think about it. 

One of the spies reports to the chairman that six professors from Rangoon University told Aung San Suu Kyi that only she can unite the people.  The general asks so, the woman is staying?  Yes.  This makes the general very angry and he has one of his men shoot the fortune teller to death.  The assassin says:  "Shame the spirits didn't warn you!"

The chairman has a meeting with his staff.  He tells General Sein Lwin that he has a mission for him.  He is to arrest the pockets of greatest resistance.  The jails will hold all the troublemakers.  Furthermore, there will be no public meetings. 

Suu is going to make his first public speech anywhere.  She is a bit nervous.  There is a huge crowd waiting to hear her every word.  When she steps up to the podium she is greeted with really wild yells of support.  It turns out that she is a very good public speaker.  She calls for free and fair elections.  The crowd goes wild for her.  She is Burma's big new hope for the future.

At the British embassy, Michael is able to run off a number of fliers for distribution to the people. 

At home, Suu explains to her sons that they have to go back to England for it's too dangerous for them to stay here.  The boys are put in a taxi and taken to the airport. 

The political work goes on and on.  At night the electricity to Suu's house is cut-off.  Then the military jeeps start pulling up in the driveway.  The military commander tells Dr. Michael Aris that his visa has been canceled.  They give one minute for Michael to pack his stuff and go with them to the airport. 

Back home in Oxford the two sons rush to greet their father when he comes through the home door. 

Suu goes on a trip to visit isolated mountain people.  She urges the people to embrace democracy.  All the people will have a voice in the democracy. 

At home in Oxford, Michael gets help from his brother Anthony and his sister-in-law Lucinda.  The latter teaches Michael the basics of cooking. 

Suu returns to her Rangoon home and Mon Mom with tear in her eyes tells Suu that her mother has died.  Mother's body lays on her bed.  100,000 people attend the funeral procession. 

The military returns to Suu's home.  General Nyuunt has come to talk with Suu.  He says her job here in Burma has been completed and they are ready to take her to the airport for her trip back to England.  After all, the boys must be missing their mother.  Of course, Suu says there is still a lot of work to be done in Burma.  She is staying.  Suu then asks the general to tell General Ne Win to make haste. 

The military start breaking up any public meetings, especially those connected with the new democracy movement.   They try to block Suu from holding a little rally.  As she approaches the soldiers are ordered to prepare to shoot.  Suu is very cool, saying they shall continue in a calm and orderly fashion.  Alone, she slowly walks toward the soldiers.  She walks right through the rank of soldiers.  The commander threatens to shoot the lady.  She keeps coming towards him.  Finally, an order is given for the soldiers to leave.

General Ne Win talks to those involved in the incident.  One officer ordered his men to shoot Suu.  One officer ordered the men not to shoot the lady.    General New Win takes the latter officer's pistol and shoots the officer who ordered his men to shoot.  The General does not want to create a martyr of the lady. 

When Michael hears the news that his wife was almost shot today by the military, he has to pull his car over and take a smoking break.  He is so upset that he is shaking. 

The military is still pulling young people off the streets and taking them to jail.  They took some right from one of Suu's rallies. Later Suu learns that many of those men picked up were taken as forced laborers at the borders.  Other are lined up and sent to walk through mine fields. 

Eight months later.  In a letter from Suu to her husband, she writes that every day brings new atrocities committed by the military.  She urges him to try not to worry. 

Michael approaches someone who has influence with the Nobel prizes.  He wants someone to nominate his wife for a Nobel peace prize. 

At work, Micheal asks his graduate student Karma to look through all of Suu's papers for they are going to put together an application for the Nobel committee on Suu's behalf.  Karma is thrilled to help on the project. He and Michael work hand in hand.

The family back in England get news that they can visit mother/wife/political leader in Rangoon.  They all are ready to go to the airport when Michael gets a telephone call from Lucinda saying that the boys' grandfather has died.  So only the boy are sent to Burma, while dad helps set up the funeral in Scotland. 

The headline in the English paper is:  "Burmese tipped for peace prize."  And now the Burmese military goes on full alert.  They are going to hold their Nobel Peace Prize winner in house arrest.  They block off the streets near her house, so no one can go in or out without the permission of the military.  They put up barbed wire all around the compound.  The military now bursts into the house.  The leader says everyone has to leave this house except for Suu and her two sons.  Everyone else:  Get out!

The military start coming after those who work in support of Suu.  Uncle Leo is arrested,.  A comedian who would warm up the crowd for Suu is also arrested.  The man jokes:  didn't you think my jokes were funny?

Insein, the largest prison in Burma.  Some of Suu's supporters are thrown into dog cages. 

Michael flies to Burma.  The military picks him up at the airport.  They tell him the rules of what he can do, such as abide by the same rules his wife has to abide by and don't speak to anyone about politics.  He is driven to Suu's house. 

Back home, the boys tell dad that mummy is on hunger strike.  Michael and the boys are very concerned about her well being. 

The BBC reports that Dr. Michael Aris has not been seen since arriving in Rangoon two weeks ago. 

Michael is so worried that he offers a proposition to the military.  His wife's health is getting poorly and he has gotten her to agree that she will stop her hunger strike if the authorities will guarantee that her colleagues are treated well. 

At Suu's place, the military sends over the Chief of Police and two soldiers to say that the military assures her that none of her colleagues will be harmed.  The colleagues are released from the dog cages and taken out of the chains that bind them to the prison walls. 

Suu fells strong enough to get up and walk around the house.  She plays the piano.  It cheers up the family, but worries the guards. 

Michael and the boys have to return to Oxford. 

The news in England reports that there will be elections in May but Suu is disqualified from running because she is married to a foreigner.

The first elections in forty years are held.  The result:  Aung San Suu Kyi gets 392 seats, while the military gets 10.

The military is mad.  So they telephone the guard house at Suu's place to tell them not to let Suu speak to the crowds outside her compound.  Suu ignores the guard who tries to stop her.  So he tells the guards outside to fire off their weapons in the air and scare the people away from the compound. 

Although Aung San Suu Kyi is the new Prime Minister, the military is still not going to let her out of house arrest.  And the leaders of her party the National League of Democracy  are being arrested one by one.  The monks have now started to protest.  So, now the monks living and working places are surrounded by armed soldiers. 

It's snowing in Oxford.  Michael gets a telephone call.  His lady has won the Nobel Peace Prize.  Michael speaks to the press saying that Suu is in the third year of detention under Burma's military rulers.  Her family here in Oxford have no contact with her.  All they know is that she is quite alone. 

Oslo, Norway 1991.  The family is welcomed by a strong applause to the hall.  In Rangoon Suu sits before the radio to listen to the presentation.  Suddenly, her electricity is shut off again.  Her family goes up to accept the prize.  Mon Mon gets a battery operated radio. And now Suu can hear her son Alex make a little speech in honor of his mother. 

Three years later.   Michael speaks with Archbishop Tutu, saying that he wishes he could get the Asians on board with them in taking action against Burma.  Tutu says there is no time like the present and he goes to speak with some top Asian representatives.  The result is that Japan tells the Burmese military that before they can join their Japanese Pan-Asiatic Association, they are going to have to give some sign of good will concerning Burma.   

The Chief of Police comes to see Suu.   He says:  "Madam, your restricted residence is at an end.  You are now free to come and go as you please."  She looks out the window and sees the military packing up their things. 

Suu goes to the British Embassy.  She calls Michael and says that she is free again.  And so are all her colleagues free.  Michael, of course, is thrilled.  She adds:  "The fight goes on."

The family arrives at Suu's place.  The family is glad to be reunited. 

November 1998.  Michael has not seen his wife since the last time he went to Burma.  He writes his wife about his prostate cancer.  She cries as she reads the letter.  She calls home and speaks with her husband.  The conversation is short because they get disconnected after a brief conversation.

Michael hopes he will get his visa approved so he can see his wife again.  Karma is looking out for him and his health.  Suu calls her husband and asks him if she should come and see him in England?  He says definitely no.  They didn't come all this way just to falter in sight of the goal line. 

Michael gets another refusal for his visa.  He is really dejected by this. 

Suu calls and Karma has to tell her that Michael is now in a hospice.  "He is slipping away very fast."   (She is cut off again.)  She calls back and Kim answers.  In a round about way, he is asking his mother to come home because father is dying.  But his mother can't come.  As she says:  "It would be the end of everything your father and I fought for for so long", she is cut off again.

March 1999.  Michael is still in the hospital one day before his birthday. 

Over the radio, Suu learns that her husband has died on his 53rd birthday.  She lays down on the floor and cries. 

Eight years later.  Rangoon 2007.  There is a huge march of monks in the streets of Rangoon.  They come to Suu's place where the armed guards stop them.  She comes up over the wall of the compound to receive their well-wishing.  She throws a orchid to them. 

"After 15 years under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi was released in 2010.  Yet, according to Amnesty International, the Burmese military continues to have one of the worst human rights records in the world and the charges against them include mass murder, torture, rape and forced labor of both adults and children.  There are currently 2,100 political prisoners in detention.  Seventeen are video journalists, some of whose colleagues courageously supplied footage for this film."

"Please use your liberty to promote ours."  Aung San Suu Kyi.

 

 

Damn fine movie.  And very inspiring. Here's a family that sacrificed much of their own happiness to help Burma work toward democracy.  The movie is sad in many ways, especially concerning the separation of the wife form her husband and two sons who have to stay in England, while she is put under house arrest by the Burmese military dictatorship.  It's also sad because the military was still in power when the movie was opened to the public.  And yet the movie is an important one to see and a good one at that to watch the spirit of this family who never gave up to the military dictatorship of Burma.  Michelle Yeoh (as Aung San Suu Kyi) was marvelous and David Thewlis (Michael Aris) was very good too.  My wife loved the movie too.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


 

Historical Background:

 

1962-1974  --  military takes over the government and rules.  Chairman was General Ne Win. 

1974-1981  --  the president is General Ne Win of the Burma Socialist Programme Party.

1981-1988  --  the president is San Yu of the Burma Socialist Programme Party.

1988  --   the president is Sein Lwin of the Burma Socialist Programme Party.

1988  -- the president is Aye Ko of the Burma Socialist Programme Party.  

1988  --  the president if Maung Maung of the Burma Socialist Programme Party.

1988-2011  --  Burma is run by the military courtesy of the State Peace and Development Council.  Chairmen:  Senior General Saw Maung and later Senior General Thein Shwe.

since 2011 (March)  -- Thein Sein (born 1945) is a Burmese politician and former military commander who has been President of Burma (Myanmar) since March 2011.  He is from the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

 

 

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