Two boys, Amir and Hassan, were spending the best of their childhood together as a series of personal circumstances and political events permanently molded their destinies. One was lucky enough to get a good life outside the relentless government of Taliban in Afghanistan; the other one not as fortunate as his devotion to his master and friend eventually cost his life. This is at least how I understood the film The Kite Runner which rolled in cinemas in 2007.
Director Marc Foster and the cast of the film adapted the script from the novel written by Khaled Hosseini. Hosseini drew inspiration in writing the novel from his childhood memories when he taught a Hazara man how to read and write during the family’s stay in Iran, and from the Kabul of his early years that he knew then. It is a drama film, the story revolving around the friendship between Amir and Hassan, and how personal and political conflicts shaped them into what they became eventually.
I will start with a summary of the film. Afterwards, some themes and techniques used by the filmmakers in the movie will be tackled. Finally, I will attempt to relate the film to political socialization, that is, how the film can contribute to the discussion on integrity and negotiation as the course’s theme tells us.
Amir Qadiri, a well-to-do boy, lived his childhood days in a district in Kabul, Afghanistan together with his father, Baba, and closest friend, Hassan, whom he all knew was their servant’s son. He always played games, read and wrote stories, and enjoyed doing things with Hassan. But his father regarded him as a weakling, and Hassan was recognized as the stronger one because the latter always defended Amir from the bullies. This remark has made Amir somewhat jealous of Hassan, and he attempted to regain his father’s attention by winning a kite flying event. However, Hassan was beaten and raped by the bullies, led by Assef, after he ran for Amir’s prize kite. This made Amir’s perception more distant to Hassan as guilt of maltreating a friend started to consume his entirety. Succeeding events would show how Amir became cold toward Hassan.
The political climate of the country was turning worse, from the fall of the Afghan monarch, to the invasion of Soviet Union that caused the exodus of numerous citizens to Pakistan and to the United States, and to the reign of the Taliban. Amir’s father was a known anti-communist, so he decided to leave the place with his son. The house was left to Rahim Khan, a friend, who looked after their property. They succeeded in escaping for the United States, and there, they became lowly refugees and started lives anew.
Amir graduated from college through the toils of his ageing father who worked hard in a gasoline station. He also helped his father selling goods in the flea market. There, he met the love of his life, Soraya. Despite the contempt that General Taheri, Soraya’s father, held due to pride and honor, Amir was able to marry her due to Baba’s request from the soldier. Although unable to conceive a child, Amir and Soraya were still happily married.
Amir received a phone call (in the opening scene of the movie) from Rahim Khan, and was told that “There is a way to be good again.” The context of this passage was for Amir to go to Pakistan and meet Rahim Khan. He learned from his father’s friend the fate of Hassan after they separated ways. Rahim Khan took Hassan and his family as caretakers of Baba’s house. But Hassan and his wife died in the hands of the Taliban after they dutifully refused to desert the house. It was revealed that Hassan was Amir’s half-brother. The deceit that fed his mind for a long time made Amir’s heart even colder, yet it was thawed and warmed after reading the letter written by Hassan a week before his death. It was now Amir’s task to search for Hassan’s son, Sohrab, in the Taliban-infested terrains of Kabul.
With the help of a driver named Farid, Amir returned to Afghanistan with a fake beard. They first visited an orphanage, where they learned of a Taliban official who takes a child from the place every now and then in exchange for meager donations. They went to the halftime of a soccer match to meet this Taliban official. They scheduled an appointment at the official’s heavily guarded house. And there, Amir once again met the bully, Assef, who presented Sohrab as a dance boy.
Assef told Amir that he can only take the boy home if he would win a fight against the bully. Amir was brutally beaten by Assef, yet Sohrab used a slingshot he got from his father Hassan and wounded Assef’s left eye. Together, they escaped the official’s house; and eventually, they reached America. Amir, who wanted to compensate with the loss that he did to a faithful friend and brother, attempted to console the traumatized and withdrawn Sohrab by defending the boy against General Taheri’s racist remarks and introducing him (Sohrab) as a nephew. Amir also flew a kite with the boy in the end, and cutting an enemy kite, he said, “For you, a thousand times over” and ran for the kite, just like what Hassan said to Amir during their childhood days.
The movie has several underlying themes. One is the concept of redemption. It is evident in the film how Amir tried to redeem his reputation in the eyes of his father as he felt he was responsible for his mother’s death. Yet, the greatest redemption that happened in the film is Amir’s attempt to save Sohrab, as this was the only way he found to cleanse his lingering guilt to Hassan. It was also his way in redeeming himself to finally stand for what is right.
Another possible theme is patriarchy, and love and tension between father and sons. As we all know, in an Islamic society, the father is a powerful figure; as a dialogue from Rahim Khan implies, a father is able to “fill the children with the color that he wants them to be.” Baba wanted Amir to be a doctor; yet he wanted to be a writer, and the father looked down on his son’s ambition. Amir loves Baba very dearly, yet he didn’t feel that he was loved back that much and he saw Hassan as a ‘rival’. Jealousy prevailed; the friendship between Amir and Hassan gradually broke up, despite the latter’s never-fading attachment to the former.
There is also a tinge of racial discrimination in the movie. There are references to Hassan and to Sohrab as the “Hazara boy”, and it points out the ethnic conflict between the majority Pashtun and the minority Hazaras in Afghanistan. The Hazaras had been discriminated against on the grounds of their faith, language, and ethnicity. Although the Pashtuns are successful in integrating the Hazaras into the Afghan state, they are not able to extinguish the nationalism that the minority group exhibits in the country. Thus, the conflict between these groups still persists.
In the film, the intersection between the political and the private spheres can also be considered a theme. The transitions in Amir’s life also marked the transitions that took place in his dear country. The political events greatly influenced the outcomes of the characters, particularly Amir and Hassan. Had there not been this series of political unrest in Afghanistan, the rest of the story would have been different.
Nostalgia is also an important theme in the movie. We can see it in Amir, who almost “forgot” his past yet the guilt toward Hassan still lingered. His father Baba was also very homesick, and it manifested with the locker containing Afghan soil. Each character has his/her own past that made them act the way they did in the present.
Regarding the technical aspects of the film, I say that the film has effectively used repetition, flashback, and symbolism. Here, we can see some details that repeated throughout the film: for instance, Hassan’s warning shot and Sohrab’s actual shot at Assef’s left eye; Assef’s molestation of Hassan and of Sohrab; the “Hazara boy” remarks of Assef and of General Taheri; Hassan’s “For you, a thousand times over” dialogue to Amir and the same dialogue of the latter to Sohrab. Each one foreshadowed an important happening that would highlight Amir’s fears and eventually overcoming of these fears.
Flashbacks are evident throughout the film. Actually, the technique was mainly used by the filmmakers in building the flow of the story. It gave emphasis on the childhood memories of Amir in order for viewers to fully understand what transpired prior to Rahim Khan’s call at the beginning of the film. Though some would say that flashbacks might confuse the timeline of a film, I would still say that The Kite Runner is successful in employing this kind of technique as it let viewers like me ponder more about the story while expecting for surprises.
Symbolism is used by the film in the kites and the allusions to rape. The kites might represent Amir’s happiness and hopes when he was still a child; ironically, it was also a sign of his guilt toward Hassan. Meanwhile, the rape scenes may be interpreted as the power domination of the majority over the minority (eg. Assef raping Hassan may symbolize the Pashtuns persecuting the Hazaras; the Russian soldier who showed interest in a woman passenger on the way outside Afghanistan may correspond to Soviet’s invasion of the country).
Finally, the film can be related to the discussion on integrity and negotiation. As Sir F would ask us in class, “What constitutes one’s integrity?” Perhaps, the greatest thing that contributed to the integrity of the characters is their memories of the past. They kept on remembering events that made them happy, and on forgetting things that made them shattered or bruised. To hold on to their integrity, they kept doing things which they think would keep their identity distinguishable despite the continuous processes of negotiations within a given context (eg. Practicing religion, observing traditions, speaking native language). However, it should be noted that remembering and forgetting is not clear-cut and inseparable—both are essential in delineating your own integrity. As I think it is unavoidable, there would come a time that you have to negotiate a part of your integrity in order to cope with a need, as in the case of Amir, who almost forgot his early days with Hassan, but were brought back due to circumstances. He negotiated his memory to redeem himself of the guilt he committed; as he replied to Farid during his visit to the abandoned residence, “I don’t want to forget anymore.”
It still touches and amazes me, though, that there would be someone that’s so devoted to you that he’s willing to compromise his own integrity just to make you better, just like Hassan to his half-brother Amir.
- Roldan Pineda