Friday, September 18, 2009

The Kite Runner

Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors. – Advice to Amir’s father in “The Kite Runner.”

Perhaps, instead of calling this series “From Israel to India,” we should have titled it “From Hollywood to India.” Our series opener “The Kite Runner” – despite its faraway setting – is really a Hollywood movie through and through. It may be set in Afghanistan, but its methods of storytelling and its sense of dramatization owe everything to the Hollywood tradition.

This is almost certainly a good thing, a fine point of entry for an audience used to dramatic highs and lows, of heroes and villains. Two films down the road, with “The Willow Tree,” audiences will be asked to struggle a bit while deciding who to root for – if anyone – and exactly why.

Directed by Marc Forster (“Quantum of Solace” – yes, the James Bond movie), “The Kite Runner” relates the troubled story of two boyhood friends, Amir and Hassan. Set in the present, it tells most of its tale from the safe distance of a flashback. Amir, now a writer living in San Francisco, is cradling his first book in his hands admiringly when the phone rings. It’s Afghanistan on the line, a voice from the past, calling him to come back.

We meet the youthful Amir – and Hassan – during a kite flying contest. It’s a brutal display with kites diving and ducking as flyers attempt to cut opponent kites from the sky with strings coated with ground glass. Amir is a great flyer. Hassan, his assistant, retrieves fallen enemy kites. He’s a kite runner, also a great one. He instinctively knows exactly where a cut kite will land. They’re a great team.

Amir’s father is proud of his son’s skills with a kite in the air, but not with how he hesitates to stand up to his enemies on the ground. His father is ashamed of him. Returning home after the kite contest, Amir overhears his father bemoan to a colleague, “A boy who won’t stand up for himself, becomes a man who won’t stand up for anything.”

Later, Amir gets advice of a different sort. Amir describes one of his stories to Hassan: “It’s about a poor man who finds a magic cup. He learns that if he weeps into the cup, his tears turn to pearls. At the end of the story, he’s sitting on a mountain of pearls and holding a bloody knife in his hand and his dead wife in his arms.” To make him weep, he has killed the one he loved most. To this, Hassan asks simply, “Why didn’t he just smell an onion?”

The central scene – following the big kite flying tournament – tests Amir and Hassan’s friendship to the limit. It is an agonizing turn of events. It is almost too much to watch. The film may have gone too far and certainly paints its villains too black. But, motivated by shame and feelings of cowardice on Amir’s part and pain on Hassan’s, the two boys are forever changed. They grow apart.

The final movement of the movie follows Amir back to Afghanistan in the present day, responding to the phone call. It has the feel of a man determined to right many wrongs. It’s Amir’s battle to reconcile the conflict between his father’s words and Hassan’s question. His father had expected his son to be certain colors. Hassan had hoped for other colors. Now, it’s the moment of truth. Which crayons will Amir choose?

The movie ends with a kite flying scene of a completely different flavor, one that is peaceful, a happy day for Amir, finally. It offers reassurance that we’ve been longing and hoping for, that knives have been replaced by onions. It makes me sure his next book will be one I’d love to read.

With our second movie, the Israeli war movie “Waltz with Bashir,” we truly begin the trek of the series title. And after passing through Iran and Kazakhstan, we will end up in India with “Bombai” (“Bombay”).

“The Kite Runner” is rated PG-13 for strong thematic material including the rape of a child, violence and brief strong language. It shows at the Grand Theater on Thursday, October 1 at 3:00 and 5:30.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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