The Kite Runner

2008-11-04 09:49
What it's about:

Amir has left his past – in particular his rejection and betrayal of his childhood friend and servant Hassan – behind in his birth land of Afghanistan. He has become an American and a successful novelist. But he is forced to return to his ruined country of birth in order to save a child and assuage his own guilt by confronting his cowardice.

What we thought of it:

The Kite Runner is a movie about how horrible people are and how brutal life can be, and in the end seems to leave you feeling that honour and not compassion is the only hope for humanity. It explores how complex making the right decision about what is honourable can become, and the horrific consequences of making an expedient or selfish decision that you know to be wrong.

The central character Amir is a coward and a needy and insecure person who has tried to leave his past and his people behind in Afghanistan. Haunted by his own cowardice the day he stood back and watched Hassan be raped as punishment for defending his honour, he has buried his past. But he has to face up to it when he learns of Hassan's death, and has to save his friend's orphaned son Sohrab from the very same people who tormented Hassan.

At every opportunity, the movie shows human cruelty and preposterous levels of oppression, portraying a world in which people must choose between two evils – living a life complicit in oppression of others, or being a martyr and dying with honour.

The Kite Runner is a gripping film, and at times well told. Humorous moments taken from the book keep you engaged and warm to the characters. It humanises the problems of war, providing a less faceless perspective on Afghanistan that reminds you that real people get killed by those flashes in the sky, and real people have to live with the damage war does. Sometimes fiction is more truthful than the estranging coverage provided by characters on Fox News. There are images of Kabul as it was before war: a wonderful city full of music, life, love, lamb kebabs, tourists and hope. But the humorous relief and the complex characterisation thins out as the story progresses.

It's replaced by painful images. Stonings, rape, child sex, treeless streets... It's all there, and it assaults you with a physical power that cannot be denied, inciting rage at people who would do these things. Reading about it in the news is one thing, but seeing rocks hit a sobbing woman's head really makes you hate oppressive religious regimes. As propaganda, it really works.

There are many great things about the movie, but like its central character Amir, The Kite Runner is its own worst enemy, often portraying the Taliban and the Russians as the source of all evil, with America as the haven of all that is good and liberal. While most of us would probably rather live in San Francisco than in Kabul, that doesn't justify simplifying the moral issues. Unlike the book, the movie fails to inspire awe at the human spirit, instead leaving your faith in humanity crushed and your sense of judgement offended by the way the suffering of a nation is exploited to sell a pro-American agenda.

Now and again, the symbols used and the analogies drawn are just corny. The kites fly like little bomber planes above Kabul – an interesting visual and a clever reference – but they do it in magical 50km breezes on days so still that they don't stir a hair on anyone's head. The movie isn't called "Top Kite" is it? Why not just have a pulsing light reading "CGI! CGI!" in the corner of the screen? Cheesy music swells to lead your emotions like signs held up at a farce saying "Clap!" When Sohrab is rescued, he's taken to his room, where an all-American patchwork quilt adorns his little bed. Aaaawww, isn't that great? Land of the brave, home of the twee!

Adapting a full-length novel to screen is one of the hardest things to pull off. The danger is that a clever and complex plot easily becomes just a series of events. What's happened here is that the main story has become subsumed by the plot. What the book is about – the snatching of small joy in impossible places and the power of redemption through doing right in a world gone wrong – is lost in the bigger picture.

The happy ending, complete with a spontaneous kite battle in a San Fran park, running over hills, and a hopeful sign that Sohrab is recovering emotionally, is infuriatingly neat and tidy. After what you've been through watching this movie, it feels insulting. Like being handed Panado and a Get Well Soon card after your leg's been amputated.

- Jean Barker
A powerful film – or rather a brutal film – that misses the point of the book on which it's based and gets lost in the big picture.

Vivien 2008/02/15 11:22 AM
Kite Runner A brilliant book to read and can't wait to see the film
Mo 2008/02/17 8:21 PM
Brilliant I couldnt breathe easily after this movie cos i had to clear a hundred lumps in my throat. It was emotional!! Powerfully presented, the Kite Runner will live long in my memory.. it is quite simply BRILLIANT! From the camerawork to the acting to the wondrous tone of their mother tongue.. this is world cinema at its very best!
Ntombi 2008/02/22 6:36 PM
Kite Runner I took my 14 year old daughter with me to see Kite Runner. I advise all parents, if they are thinking of taking theier children along they should seriously re-consider
Lauren 2008/03/08 6:03 PM
The Kite Runner Huge disappointment for me, after reading the book I was excited to see how this emotional roller coaster would transpire in a flick... well I found it so weak compared to the book. A great pity!
Dianne Zachen 2008/11/04 7:26 AM
The Kite Runner Haven't read the book but this movie was magnificent. The actors so life like. The movie portrayed people as the different characters they are. Your own commentary "judges the film" and reads symbols into the kites that I am sure were never intended. Quite superficial compared to the moving depth of human nature portrayed. Magnificent.
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