Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Kite Runner: Redemption Within A Tentative Best

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


Liane Candelario said...


Redemption is always a self-induced phenomenon.

After a few days of seeing The Kite Runner, and perhaps with the help of the rest of the movies too, I feel like I’m coming close to conceptualizing my own theorem about identity. My idea is that identity begins with a dose of normative self disillusionment. It’s a whole set of defining this and that of who you are and who you ought to be. Negotiations happen the moment when reality kicks in, because as for many other things in life, you can never have it your way. And this is where I believe redemption comes in- it’s the constant battle of reestablishing your preconceived notions of who you are vis-à-vis how determinist values in society molded you into the casket of your current social, political, economical and cultural milieu. In a way, redemption is a firm patronage to one’s own as an ultimate settler of identity. In simpler terms, redemption is you trying to redefine yourself.

“There is a way to be good again…” says Rahim Khan. That’s all it took for Amir Jan, a man who have successfully assimilated as a published author in a foreign land, to succumb to a trip that brought him back to his homeland. This line pertains to how big of a driving force redemption is. If given a chance to reset your identity to what you feel it should be, then like Amir Jan, you’d most likely jump at the opportunity.

The next question that this poses though is that will redemption really correct who you are? I believe it is not a matter of ‘correction’ per se, redemption for me merely acts as an equalizer. For example, Amir Jan may have saved Sohrab and have given him a new life free from abuse and exploitation, but that doesn’t necessarily negate all the bad treatment he has given to Hassan during the troubled moments of his childhood. I can further juxtapose this to criminal law – a prisoner may have been granted pardon for his good behavior while in sentence but that will never erase his or her record as a criminal. Therefore, I feel like it is very misleading to say that Amir Jan’s redemption reestablishes him to being good again. Redemption here means that even if he had been such a bad, insufferable prick to Hassan, he had come into terms with that by saving Hassan’s son, and now his nephew.

Like Amir Jan, our identity is the sum total of all that we’ve done and all that we’ve become.

With that said, let me move on to other pertinent issues and themes of the movie. As a whole, The Kite Runner’s attempt to resonate nostalgia appealed to me the most. I think it applies too for everyone to be nostalgic whenever a reference to home and memoirs of a long gone childhood is brought up. In my own philosophizing of life, I’ve deduced that nostalgia accounts to how much we are disconnected from a certain point in time (in this instance, it’s Amir Jan’s homeland and the story of his childhood). The stronger the sense of nostalgia is, the more disconnected you are from an event or an experience that you wish to relinquish. And yes, I’m saying this because I truly miss my childhood. Well actually, is there anyone who doesn’t?

Liane Candelario said...


On a more serious note, I greatly appreciate The Kite Runner for enlightening me that Pakistan isn’t just some barren, war-torn wasteland filled with human decay and religious extremism. In fact, now that I’ve watched the film, I feel so horrible for being so xenophobic to the Pakistanis. If the scenes of Amir Jan and Hassan’s childhood days are indeed true (which I believe to be so) then I can quite understand the sentiment of Baba’s deeply-rooted hate towards the Russians. The invasion of the Russian communists though isn’t the one that is fully accountable for Pakistan’s demise. What’s more depressing is that the country actually has greatly suffered more at the hands of its own people especially with the law being controlled by the Taliban extremists.

Allusions to rape and violence plague the entirety of the film. It’s disconcerting to think that clashes to ethnicity (like the Pashtun and the Hazaras) could be adopted so early by young people (like Assef) and be used as an excuse to commit acts of atrocities. It’s completely disgusting how he, even at his young age, have raped Hassan just because he is a racial minority. What pushed Amir Jan to be equally indifferent to the abuse that his ‘best friend’ had suffered should also be charged as equally disgusting.

Violence is a crime, so is inaction to stop violence or to let it perpetrate. Hassan’s loyalty is, if anything else, martyrdom to his belief to Amir Jan. Fighting off bullies, running after kites, getting raped just to protect a prize kite, smashing a fruit to his own forehead, admitting to a crime he did not commit, learning to read and write, dying to protect a long abandoned house… really, who does that?! If I get a best friend like that, the last thing I’d do is to make him/her go away! Amir Jan’s youth proves to be very shallow and ungrateful to the material wealth and companionship that he possessed. As it turned out, it was indeed nice to see that he have been able to see his shortcomings and move forward towards redemption.

Amir Jan may have gotten his chance, but more than that, his homeland needs its own redemption too. And I hope that one day, the offsprings of those who have survived the Exodus can once again relive the glory of Pakistan – a land where kites (and people) soar high and free. #

Margaret Gallardo said...
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Margaret Gallardo said...

Part I

Q: What do “The Kite Runner” and “Slumdog Millionaire” have in common?
A: A lot.

This is the first thing that popped into my mind as I watched “The Kite Runner” for the nth time. That’s not to say a tear or two wasn’t shed during the process. Both films open with questionable scenes. “What brought about these scenarios?” one might ask. The answers lie in the numerous flashbacks that reveal a myriad of key events that may or may not have contributed to the present. First of all, the films were based on novels of the same title. Both “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Kite Runner” used two (2) boys as the lead characters. A set of brothers were used in the former while a set of friends, who later turn out to be brothers, were used in the latter. The cultures of both countries were manifested in the films through the food, the surroundings, the people and the clothing among others. A final dance scene is to “Slumdog Millionaire” as a Gudiparan Bazi (kite flying contest) is to “The Kite Runner”.

Let me just go straight to the point and say the film revolves around love. Before any of you cringe and squirm in your seats, allow me to explain the aforementioned statement. Just like Baba told the young Amir in the film, there is only one sin: theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. In my opinion, the film employed variations of love. Love is shown in three levels. The most basic of which is that of a father and son. Baba was very supportive of Amir even if it was not as explicit as his love for Hassan. He approved of his son’s actions in numerous circumstances although Hassan seemed to significantly outshine Amir with his being “street smart”. Amir and Hassan would portray the next level: friendship and brotherly love. The deepest kind of love is that of a person to his country. This is best exemplified by Baba’s act of keeping soil from his native land and cherishing every bit until his death.

Honor is an important theme in the film. Baba was a man of integrity. It was apparent during his stay in Afghanistan and most especially when they were left with almost nothing and had to start anew in a foreign land. The way he treated the people around him and the way he carried himself despite the countless obstacles hurled at his direction proved that, indeed, he died an honorable man. What constitutes your value system? Does your family, the environment, or the different phenomena that take place shape it? The answer to that is yes. While it is true that the family is the primary and most basic value shaper, it is also the constant exposure to the environment and the events that transpire within it that contribute to a person’s moral fiber.

I disagree with Mr. Pineda with regard to there being only a “tinge of racial discrimination” in the movie. In my opinion, the film was overflowing with racism. Although he mentioned the difference between the Hazaras and the Pashtuns in Afghanistan, he failed to mention the perceptions of the people outside of Afghanistan. Yes, there were conflicts within the country, but the external issues were of greater magnitude. Amir had to use a fake beard just to be accepted. Members of the Taliban were biased against America and all those who reside in it.

Margaret Gallardo said...

Part II

I agree with Mr. Pineda with regard to rape being symbolic. Aside from it representing the power domination of the majority over the majority, it could also symbolize the suppression of the Afghans by the Taliban. The raping of Hassan by Assef signifies the Taliban dirtying the once-majestic country: Afghanistan. It is quite ironic how a citizen of that country would contribute to, if not be the ultimate cause of, the country’s destruction. It is within this realm that certain negotiations take place. Negotiations take place because the world we live in is constantly changing. Contrary to what Mr. Pineda has mentioned, I believe it is not so much in forgetting the things that made the characters feel shattered and bruised that contributed to their identity. It is how you deal and what you do with what you have, regardless of how wretched your past is, that makes up who you are.

Amir’s act of returning to Pakistan is his way of finding redemption. He comes to the aid of a friend he should have stood by so many years ago. Amir washing his feet in the temple in the latter part of the film is highly symbolic of his redemption. To answer the question raised in class, redemption does not equate to resolution. You may have been able to resolve something but in doing so, you might not have been able to redeem yourself. That being said, time is a crucial element in redemption.

Moving on to the technical aspect of the film, the juxtaposition of the barren land and the pomegranate tree was brilliant, to say the least. The music employed throughout the duration of the film was very fitting as well. My favorite scene would be that of Hassan smearing his face with a pomegranate. Their friendship must have been at its apex for Hassan to do what he did. This scene made me cry buckets (believe me I was trying to stifle my cries in the back) because it is unusual for me to encounter someone so selfless. It made me believe in humanity for a moment. People nowadays always want something in return. THEY ALWAYS WANT SOMETHING IN RETURN. Why can’t people be like Baba when he stood up for the woman the soldier wanted to rape? Did he ask for anything in return? No. He did what he did because that was what he thought was right. I am hopeful that people, regardless of age, race or gender, know that there is always a chance to be good again.


Zabel, B. (2008, December 27). Slumdog millionaire (2008) -vs- the kite runner (2007). Retrieved from

Mico Quijano said...

Regret is a story. It’s an anecdote we wish we never had to tell. The past we wish we never had to look back to. That choice we wish we never had to make.

Regret is a feeling. It’s a vulnerability we rarely expose. The moment we seldom linger on. That emotion we hardly come into terms with – always.

But regret is also a force. It’s a push that makes us get moving. The drive within which slaps and challenges our ego. That wake-up call which tells us we should do better, because we can – always.

As I see it, regret and redemption comes hand in hand. The former is a prerequisite to the latter. This is not to say that regret is the only motivation. Of course, depending on the circumstance, there can always be other reasons why we would want to redeem ourselves – shame, embarrassment, anger, pride, etc. Here, the premise is that we’ve wronged someone. In this case, we can never completely experience redemption, let alone begin acting on it, if we haven’t genuinely felt a sense of regret.

That said, I can’t help but have reservations with regard to what Ms. Candelario mentioned. “Redemption is a self-induced phenomenon.” Redemption is a response; it’s an action – and behind every action there is always a motivation guided by an interest. Amir saved Sohrab (action) because he regretted not having been able to become a good friend to Hassan (motivation). It was his way of dealing with the guilt (interest). I guess this is where redemption as a way of redefining one’s self comes in.

Without question, The Kite Runner belongs to that list of Hollywood films in plethora which employ a certain formula that is sure to pull the strings of the heart. Presenting issues practically everyone can relate to (not the rape, God forbid), – childhood friendships, parental approval, separation and reconnection, among others – it’s quite funny how the film uses flashback as a narrative device and consequently evokes the viewer to experience his/her personal nostalgia. To echo Ms. Gallardo, The Kite Runner, simply put, tackles love in all its colorful variations. You see, like The Girl In The Café, this is the type of film which makes you dwell deeply on your emotions for so long, until you forget to notice the other significant themes, equally worthy of discussion (or that you’re actually screening it in a Political Science class so you must find a way to say something “political” about it).

Mico Quijano said...
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Mico Quijano said...

What I find as the film’s most interestingly political statement would perhaps be the fact that it appears to break the Afghanistan stereotype. We all know what kind of country Afghanistan is. Suffice to say, it is not a place people would wish to migrate to in order to search for greener and peaceful pastures. What the film made me understand though is that however true the things I know of Afghanistan are, I never really knew or bothered to know how these things were before. I mean, we know what Afghanistan is, but did we ever realize that it is what Afghanistan has become? The Kite Runner serves as an eye-opener by painting three distinct pictures of the country: 1) the pre-Soviet invasion, a place where kites fly free; 2) the Russian takeover, a place where kites fly only to falter; and 3) the reign of the Taliban, a place where kites do not exist.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the juvenile rape scene, which to the producer’s dismay, has stirred a huge controversy resulting to a total ban of the film in Afghanistan and compromised the welfare of the child actors who portrayed Amir and Hassan. Apparently, none of the people in Paramount had an inkling that the aforementioned scene would put the lives of the kids in jeopardy. Some have even argued that they have been merely fulfilling their commitment to staying true to their source material; hence, it had to be part of the film. From where I stand (as a non film-maker and non-Afghan), I find it uncomfortable to make a position. I understand that the ethnic tensions between Hazara and Pashtun are far more complicated than outsiders could ever grasp, but the fact remains that these really happened. So I guess it’s ultimately a judgment call: when dealing with a culturally-sensitive material, how far are you willing to go, and how much are you willing to compromise?

Four years after the film was released, we see not a single news regarding the situation and whereabouts of the child actors. The question that begs to be asked is did they regret making the film? Did Paramount regret including the rape scene on the film? We go back to regret.

Regret is a word, a story, a feeling. Sometimes, if we’re brave enough, it becomes a force – taking us to the path of redemption. #yesbaklaaa

Liane Candelario said...

In response to Mr. Quijano...
Because I remembered this was asked in class one time and it is allowed in case wherein your stance is being questioned)

I think you may have misinterpreted. I see your point, but at the same time I think there's a need to analyze at a deeper level where 'motivation' stems from.

For one, it isn't a naturally programmed event in our system like breathing or circadian rhythms. Motivation ultimately comes from an intrinsic choice, because really, we can't count on everyone to be altruistic all the time. Amir Jan may not regret if he chooses too and therefore fail to save Sohrab let alone travel back to his homeland. It was his choice- a self-induced one.

I'd agree though that you've factored in personal returns or interest in the equation. Then again, it's not something that's mutually exclusive to what I believe I was trying to say. That and hats off to your ending.#

Mico Quijano said...
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Mico Quijano said...

Ms. Candelario,

Notice the phrase I used: "I... have reservations..." I could have simply said I disagree, but then again, I am not in complete disagreement with your argument.

I wished to point out that perhaps aside from the act of redemption itself, what's "self-induced" are emotions which serve as motivations to respond or act on something.

We have long been arguing along these lines. Quite obviously, it's because I think you believe more on the power of agency, while I always fancy to look at things from a structural determinist perspective.

Bulawi said...

Kite flying, or Gudiparan Bazi in Dari, is one of the most popular sports in Afghanistan before it was outlawed by the Taliban at the start of their regime in 2006. It is in this kite-flying Afghan context where the film The Kite Runner begins to tell its story of betrayal, guilt, and ultimately redemption. Amir, the main character, is burdened by the guilt of abandoning his best friend, kite runner, and half-brother Hassan. Amir watched and ultimately left Hassan to be raped in an alley only so that he may take home the last kite that he cut down in the local tournament. Burdened with his guilt and with Hassan’s selflessness, he then planted his new watch on Hassan’s bed hoping for their dismissal from his family’s services, which happened to work. Amir’s actions when he was young stemmed out of his desire for affection from his father, Baba. Baba sees Amir as weak and seems to pride Hassan for his courage to fend off bullies which Amir lacks. Amir sees the local kite tournament as a way to redeem his image to his father. In the end, he allows Hassan to be raped only so as to take home the kite as a trophy. This, however, will have more complex repercussions as Amir matures. Inasmuch as the film is about the older Amir’s quest for redemption, it also shows a younger Amir’s longing for approval and as well as redemption as Baba sees him as a weakling and the cause of his mother’s death. He sees the local kite tournament as a way of making his father see him in a better light. However, this takes a rather sad turn as he regarded his thirst of approval heavier over his friendship with Hassan which sets the course for the older Amir’s journey to redemption.

Amir’s actions are also somewhat a reflection of Baba’s deeds. Both ‘betrayed’ their friends; Amir just letting Hassan be raped and Baba having an affair with Ali’s mother, which leads to the conception of Amir’s half-brother, Hassan. Also Baba tries to compensate for his sin by giving the son of Ali special treatment, even letting him ride shotgun in his Mustang. This is seen as parallel to Amir’s actions as his shot for redemption involved the son of Hassan, Sohrab, as he tried to rescue him from a life of abuse under the Taliban and to give him a better life in America.

Inasmuch as Amir went back to redeem himself by saving Soharb, Amir’s redemption can ultimately be seen when he was beaten black and blue by Assef which was the price for setting Sohrab free. It can be seen as the overdue beating that he would receive, had he stood up for Hassan many years back. The book points to this more clearly as Amir was laughing while Assef was beating him, enjoying the late pain and doing what he should have done back them, standing up for his friend. Ultimately, he does it for his friend’s son which can be seen as his redemption from all those years of guilt.


Juan Carlo Tejano said...
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Juan Carlo Tejano said...

This is a little out of place in the ensuing debate between Mr. Quijano and Ms. Candelario but I simply hope to point out a topic that has been largely ignored in the entry and in the discussion thus far – the role of kite fighting and running in the entire film’s narrative.

To a large extent, kite running is the most recurrent motif in the film and is, in fact, the basis of its very title. It makes one wonder, however, why. What and how large is the role of the kite in the film, so much so that it deserves to be the film’s conspicuously central symbol deserving of its title? Could it be as simple and as ambivalent as both Amir’s happiness and guilt, as proposed by Mr. Pineda? I do not think so. If it were, then how are we to interpret kite fighting and kite running?

It is disappointing how much we have ignored the symbol of the kite throughout the film and our in-class and online discussions. We have failed so far to realize the centrality of kites in Amir and Hassan’s friendship. A few moments into film, we see Amir successfully cutting the opponent kite and Hassan expertly running after the fallen kite. In the end, it was then Amir running after the kite saying to Sohrab, just as Hassan had said to him before he ran after the first kite, “For you, a thousand times over.” What do these scenes and symbols and how do we make sense of this recurrent quote?

As I see it, the most cohesive and encompassing symbolism of the kite is the friendship and loyalty shared between Amir and Hassan. It makes a lot of sense that in the beginning it was Amir cutting the friendship while it was Hassan who ran after or saved it. Hassan was ready to save his friendship and loyalty with Amir no matter how much it cost him, even if it did not really mean much to Amir, even if the very friend he kept dearly did not do anything to help. Thus, Hassan put himself in danger and surrendered himself to being raped by Assef just to save the kite from being stolen, just to save his friendship with and loyalty to Amir. This symbolic moment recurs in another form in the latter part of the narrative when, though not explicitly described in the film, Hassan once again defends another property of Amir – his house – but this time to death. The intensity of Hassan’s loyalty to Amir is almost unimaginable; that Hassan was ready to be raped or killed “a thousand times over” for Amir is more than admirable. That is true integrity, being ready to defend and die for what you hold dear, for what you value, “a thousand times over.”

It takes a long while for Amir to realize this. Indeed, as his Baba had accused him, he was nothing more than a weak boy when he was younger, unable to defend his values and himself against the bigger boys. It takes a lot of intra-subjective negotiation before Amir finally concludes that he needs to stand up against his fears, fight for what he believes in, and defend just like Hassan what he holds dear, this time his only immediate relative – his brother Hassan’s son, Sohrab. Thus, in the end, Amir gains his integrity as a man, defends Sohrab against both Assef and Gen. Taheri, and like Hassan runs after and saves what is left of his friendship with and loyalty to his brethren, now ready to fight for Sohrab “a thousand times over.”

- Juan Carlo Tejano

faysah said...

Part 1:

As a Muslim myself and as someone who also grew up in an Islamic country in Southwest Asia, The Kite Runner is one of those movies that really hit close to home. Similar to the times when Amir reminisces about his childhood in Afghanistan, the film also evoked memories of my formative years in Saudi Arabia. It is very seldom that I use the first person point of view in writing papers and relay personal experiences, but since this is the last film in the list and because of the extent to how I related with the film, I can make an exemption this time.

What I would like to focus on is the role of the Taliban in Afghan society which serves as the setting of the second part of the movie. The Taliban, with Assef as the main face representing them, represents everything that I hate in an Islamic society. Perhaps hate isn’t even enough to accurately describe what I think about them. Maybe loathe or abhor is more apt. While Afghanistan has the mullahs, Saudi Arabia has the mutawas. These are the so-called bearded religious police who preach and enforce the laws of Islam as they see fit. Baba is my favourite character in the movie because I can relate to him the most given our mutual hatred of mullahs and communists. When he said that the mullahs were nothing but self-righteous pricks with beards (or something to that extent) who went on about preaching things in a language they didn’t understand, it was like he read my mind. Similar to Jose Rizal’s scenario in his Noli Me Tangere when Filipinos persisted in listening to the friar’s sermons despite not knowing Spanish, I was reminded of those mullahs and mutawas who keeps lecturing on topics that are written in Arabic regardless if they speak the language or not. What I am pointing out here is the tendency to adhere to dogma just from an interpretation of a religious text regardless if they even understand it at all. I would like to take this opportunity to inform readers that the images portrayed in the movie by the Taliban do not represent Muslims as a whole. Just like any other religion, Islam has its own group of zealots who think they are achieving martyrdom by imposing their rigid beliefs on everyone else. And just like any religion, it has its own set of hypocrites who portray themselves as the paragons of virtue while committing crimes such as rape and brandishing their own brand of justice against those who dare to disagree with the order they have established.

faysah said...
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faysah said...

Part 2:

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan opened the opportunity for the Taliban to take over and institute their own system. Just like the fascist regimes in Europe in the first half of the 20th century, the Taliban not only required obedience to its laws but also for everyone to live their lives according to the Taliban interpretation of Islam. It must be noted though, that one cannot make the same assertions of separating the state from religion in Islamic countries because Islam is not a religion. It is a way of life that Muslims follow in all aspects of their daily lives. The concept of political Islam has been increasing in scholarly literatures. The way the Taliban has molded Afghan society according to their own ideas of what an Islamic society ought to be is demonstrated by their deliberate socialization of the new generation. It is no surprise that empirical studies on sociology show a relationship between religious militancy and youth (Haddad 2003:382). Just like how the Khmer Rouge taught the Cambodian children its brand of communism which did away with concepts of family, elders, and literacy, the Taiban planted hatred against the West, non-Muslims, and even Muslims who do not subscribe to their own brand of Islam amongst the new generation.

But while the basis of the Taliban ideology is so deeply rooted in radical Islam, it appears that it is not enough to unite Afghan society. This brings into question the concept of the “ummah” or Islamic community wherein Islam supposedly unites its followers. This radical Islam that the Taliban endorses was not enough for Afghans to overlook ethnic affiliations as shown by the tension between the Pashtuns and the Hazaras in the film. Islam, (as taught by the Koran and not by those radicals) teaches brotherhood. One’s status, affiliation, nationality, or ethnicity should not be a big deal if one is to follow this concept. But this is not the case across all countries where Muslims reside. Aside from the marked differences between the Hazaras and Pashtuns, ethnic groups are seldom united by their religion as shown in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Southern Philippines. Based on these ethnic tensions, the idea of an Islamic state for all the Muslims of the world as envisioned by the radicals seem unlikely because Islam apparently is not enough to serve as a unifying tool. Another way to look at the idea of an Islamic state is that it is contrary to the idea of an ummah. If Muslims are supposed to be bound together by their faith, why should it be a big deal if they come from different countries or if they are members of different ethnic groups? If Islam can serve as a unifying tool, then why does consciousness of differences in class, ethnicity, and stature remain pervasive among Muslims? This is where one ought to pause and reflect on the code that they follow without question. Does religion, ethnicity, nationality, or any ascribed role really define anyone? Why can’t people be socialized to regard other people as their fellow members of the human race regardless of their ascribed groupings? The film reminded me of what I have always wanted to ask those religious preachers and the Taliban who insist on putting Muslims in boxes.

Haddad, Simon. “Muslim Attitude Towards the US: A Case Study of Lebanon,” International Studies, 2003, Vol. 40

Abdullah, F.

Rosie said...

Marc Foster wove a moving tale in the film adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner. The audience is transported into Amir’s world, a world of occasional privilege, of pain, of guilt, of denial, of friendship, of friendship lost, of love, of trying to gain redemption. Thinking about the film’s title now, and what the title means, brings tears to my eyes. I suppose Hassan’s selflessness and loyalty touches a nerve in all of us. Would we be willing to make the same sacrifices for a promise made to a friend? And what of Amir, the boy who ran away when his friend needed him the most? Set in the turbulent years of Afghanistan, the Kite Runner is a deliciously heartbreaking film worthy of its accolades.

I agree with Mr. Tejano when he says that the kites are central to the relationship between Amir and Hassan, but I have a far simpler interpretation. It takes two to fly a kite. Amir is the kite flyer, the one whose name gets chanted by the crowd when all the other kites are cut down. Hassan holds the spool and becomes the kite runner, the one who retrieves the fallen kite of the defeated and brings it back as proof of victory. Yes, two people fly the kite, but only one gets to frame it on his wall. It is a game but it makes the relationship very clear to us – Amir, by virtue of birthright and blood, is superior to Hassan, the “Hazara,” the servant, and as it would turn out, the illegitimate child.

Amir is asked several times in the film if he really is friends with Hassan, and he reaffirms this every time. Obviously, the young Amir was more consistent with how his father described him than he was to his perception of himself.

In the crucial moment when Hassan holds the opponent’s fallen kite and defends it to his detriment, he is defending not the kite, but the promise he made to Amir. I would love to chalk it all up to the strength of their friendship and leave it at that, but I cannot help asking why there was such a difference in how they treated their friendship. One was willing to die for the other, but the other was not. Whether the relationship was a symbol of the seemingly universal attitude of the “superior” to the “subordinate,” or simply the novelist and director exercising creative character development, it was a very powerful scene. After the incident, Amir would rather have Hassan leave than to acknowledge that he owed Hassan so much and that Hassan was scarred for life because of him. This pride, coupled with his privileged status at that point, made me hate the character so much I wanted to walk out during the screening.

Rosie said...

The theme I have been fixating on is redemption. We assume the Amir, after moving to the United States, processed the events and eventually realized that he was, and I use the term for emphasis, “guilty as hell.” When Rahim Khan calls with the “way to be good again,” he jumps up on the opportunity to redeem himself. So he goes back to Afghanistan and risks his life to save Hassan’s son Sohrab. It should be mentioned that neither of them would have gotten out alive if Sohrab didn’t fire the slingshot so accurately. He takes Sohrab to the United States, defends him from more racism, and gives him back the sense of family and love that he lost. Did he redeem himself?

For me, and this is a very personal take on the film, he did not. He was too late, several years too late. And if Rahim Khan hadn’t called, would he have tried to find Hassan on his own? Yes he was guilty, but was he guilty enough? And redemption through Hassan’s son still feels like an easy way out. He did not face Hassan and he did not face the demons of his childhood; he did not treat the original wound, he found a new one instead. Based solely on the movie because I have not read the book, he did not face who he was and what his mistakes were.

To feel redemption from saving Sohrab (assuming that all his guilt feelings were actually resolved) makes me hate Amir even more. He did what he could but it was just too late. I am not saying he should not have saved Sohrab, of course that was an admirable endeavor. But it breaks my heart to think of Hassan who held no grudges but died with no resolution. Not even one word from the person he risked life and limb for. The best way I can characterize it would be a false redemption, built on hoping that Hassan was seeing what he had done from somewhere in the afterlife. I am reminded of the phrase “whatever helps you sleep at night.” Amir might have felt redemption, but in my opinion he did not fully deserve it. The image Kite Runner has left in my mind is that of Hassan running the kite to bring back a victory that will never be his.

Personally, as far as political socialization in film is concerned, and how far people need to be pushed in order to manifest action, I believe I have reached my turning point. Whether in our personal affairs, or in affairs far greater than ourselves, there is such a thing as "too late." Action must be taken before we arrive at that point, for integrity, for redemption, for a world with fewer regrets.

Victoria Tiangco said...

Part I

Tears are flowing down my face as Kite Runner by Marc Forster comes to a close as Amir echoes the words of Hasaan, “For you, a thousand times over”, while flying a kite for his son, Sohrab. The film is about the redemption of a man who forgot how he once had a loyal and devoted friend whom he turned his back to because of jealousy and plain stupidity. I mean, who would actually lose someone as great as Hasaan, who instead of throwing a fruit back to his friend, crushes it on his face? Only Hasaan will admit to a crime he did not commit to protect the honor of his friend to his Baba. And no one, except for Hasaan, who was rejected and forgotten, would die to protect the house of his friend.

All throughout the movie, my hatred for Amir and his inability to stand up and fight for himself is overflowing. How easy it was to turn his back against a friend who suffered a beating and rape in his stead, and how shameless he was for pretending ignorance of what happened to Hasaan. The nerve of that young Amir as he framed Hasaan of stealing an expensive gift from his father! No wonder Baba sees Amir as a weakling and a second best to Hasaan. It such a shame for a man with so much courage and integrity, to have a backstabbing and ungrateful son like Amir.

One of the themes of the film is redemption. This is seen in the relationship of Amir with his Baba and Hasaan, his half-brother as revealed in the latter part of the movie. In Amir’s younger years, he was trying to prove his worthiness to Baba by writing stories and competing in a kite flying event. In his eyes, Hasaan is not only his loyal friend but also his greatest competitor for his father’s affection and admiration. This is evident in the story of the magic cup wherein a man finds himself in a mountain of pearls only with a bloody knife and his dead wife on the floor. Amir’s triumph in the kite-flying contest and Hasaan’s trickling blood on the snow-covered road is a parallel to the story.

Victoria Tiangco said...

Part II

However, as he receives a phone call from Rahim Khan, asking him to return to his homeland, he leaves his book tour in aid of his forgotten friend. It only took a few words from his friend’s father and a letter from Hasaan to make him redeem his fallen dignity. He wears a fake beard, summons his courage to face Assef again, takes a beating from him, is rescued by Sohrab and takes the boy in America to fly a kite with him. Did he redeem himself by doing all these things? Does this mean that all his transgressions in the past are forgiven? No. Echoing Ms. Gallardo, one cannot undo the past. However, in response to Ms. Ramirez, Amir did redeem himself, yes a little late, but nonetheless, he did make the effort of returning to his homeland which he tried to forget and escape. There is no penance to what he did before, instead of dwelling in his mistakes, he takes up the challenge of redeemption, of “becoming good again.” Everybody deserves a second chance, at least he had taken his.

The central role of the kite in the friendship of Amir and Hasaan should not be overlooked. I would name the kite flying contest as a kite fighting tournament, which I find very disconcerting. Aside from the skills developed in this game, there is something wrong with children competing to cut up the string and get the fallen kite as reward for the victor. This breeds a culture of violence at such an early stage of formation. Why can’t the children fly their own kites freely in a sky so vast? Putting the question further, why is there a need to engage in war and violence, only to destroy something that was once beautiful?

Victoria Tiangco