It will be very difficult to see this movie with “fresh eyes,” that is, not already aware of all the media buzz surrounding it, including, alas, this review. The novel upon which it is based, by Khaled Hosseini, is simply magical. The movie is faithful to the book. So this remains a singular experience. And you’ll want to see it and hear it as if for the first time, if you possibly can.
Part of what is so enchanting about this story is that it transports the Western viewer to another time and place. Most of us know little or nothing about Kabul, Afghanistan. We are perhaps vaguely aware of it having been a “trouble spot” with the Russians, right before their ignominious collapse. Be that as it may, there is a “before” and an “after” in this story.
The “before” is an idealized Kabul before the War. Two little boys play in the tree-lined garden, alongside the streets teeming with commerce, filled with happy, productive, busy people. A long and strong tradition of this culture is kite-flying, but with a competitive twist: the kite flyers try very hard to “cut” each other’s kite in mid-flight, constantly maneuvering, like two fighter planes jockeying for the “kill” position. Then a “runner” tries to be the first to catch the winning kite after its descent. This, too, takes both skill and intuition, as well as a certain flair and determination.
Two boys, Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), are best friends, but the relationship is unequal. Amir’s family is well off and educated, and his father (Homayon Ershadi), though widowed when his son was born, loves both his son Amir, and Hassan, the son of his faithful servant Rahim (Shaun Toub). All seems peaceful and idyllic, when they are young boys, but class distinctions begin to emerge. The neighborhood bullies pick on Hassan because he appears to be of a minority ethnicity. Amir is too frightened to fight for Hassan, and then becomes embarrassed by his own unwillingness to stand up for his friend. Finally, he is so ashamed that he tries to pick a fight, show displeasure, be boorish and rude, anything to keep him from having to be continually reminded of how shallow his loyalty really is. All these sublime dynamics are forcefully brought to the forefront, as violent circumstances suddenly overwhelm them all.
Years later, Amir (Khalid Abdallah) has grown up. But he has never outgrown his shame over his memory of abandoning his old friend in his time of need. His dad, once prosperous and imperious, has become poor, but still prideful. Amir, thoroughly Americanized after the move to California, still respects the Afghan traditions enough to become interested in an immigrant girl, and their traditional, reticent, undemonstrative courtship seems sweet, naÃ¯ve, and innocent. But again, events intervene. Amir is summoned back to Kabul by Rahim, claiming urgent business of Hassan’s. And the Afghanistan to which Amir is subjected, now controlled by the mirthless Taliban, seems like a pitiful wasteland compared to the Kabul of his youthful memory. Amir does not return unscathed or unaffected by his “pilgrimage.” But he is, in a sense, cleansed and purged, the equivalent of a religious experience, which is the last thing he expected to happen.
“The Kite Runner” is about a time, a place, and a world-view that is alien to most Westerners. Because it is a well-told story, it remains fascinating, despite some violent parts that are difficult to watch. This is a film that is every bit as high quality as the book upon which it is based. Its sublime demeanor and patient but purposeful narrative will likely leave you entranced. It’s that good.
Questions For Discussion:
1) Have you stayed in touch with your best friend from childhood? What is different about you now, and what is the same?
2) Have you ever thought of yourself as straddling two cultures, one foot on each?
3) Have you ever thought of your life of faith in this way, straddling religion and culture?
Ron Salfen is pastor of Grace Church in Greenville, Texas.