Reviewed by: Michael Karounos
|Featuring||Khalid Abdalla, Homayon Ershadi, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, Shaun Toub, Nabi Tanha, Ali Dinesh, Saïd Taghmaoui, Atossa Leoni, Abdul Qadir Farookh, Maimoona Ghizal, Abdul Salam Yusoufzai, Elham Ehsas, Ehsan Aman, Vsevolod Bardashev, Ismail Bashey, Larry Brown, Laurie Burke, L. Peter Callender, James Cotner, Emmy Farese, Susan Farese, Reza Ghasemi, Michael F. Grant, Mason Hsieh, Charles Lewis III, Larry Kitagawa, Nasser Memarzia, Benjamin Miller, Caon Mortenson, Navid Negahban, Henri Ramsey, Salim Razawi, Jeff Redlick, Timothy Roberts, Big Spence, Kelcie Stranahan, Yvonne Truong, Brian Vowell, Zadran Wali, Mohammad Yawary, Susan Zangl|
|Producer||William Horberg, Laurie MacDonald, Sam Mendes, Kwame L. Parker, Walter F. Parkes, Mark Sourian, E. Bennett Walsh, Rebecca Yeldham|
“There is a way to be good again.”
“The Kite Runner” is an adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel of the same name. It is a story which contains sin, remorse, and postponed repentance. It is a tale of a fall but also of redemption. Lastly, it is an account of the destruction and resurrection of a man’s character who is given, in the words of Rahim Khan, “one more chance to be good.”
The movie begins in present day California showing the life of an expatriate Afghani father and son who had escaped the invasion of the Soviets in 1979. Contrasted with their luxurious lives in Kabul, Amir and his father now live humble lives in Fremont making a bare living at the flea markets. Amir graduates from junior college, meets an expatriate Afghani woman, marries her, publishes a novel, and is happy, in spite of the fact that his beloved father, and only relative, later dies of cancer.
One day he receives a call from his father’s friend, Rahim Khan, who is now living in Pakistan. Rahim Khan tells him that he must rescue the son of his boyhood friend, Hassan, from the grips of the Taliban. Hassan is the “kite runner” from Amir’s childhood, a term that is both descriptive of the person who chases after the falling kites as well as a metaphor for sacrificial service. Hassan, as a Shi’a Muslim and ethnic Hazara, is a second-class citizen in Pashtun, Sunni-run Afghanistan. This was true even under the old regime, before the Soviet invasion, but it is especially true of the totalitarian rule of the Wahabi sect of Islam that the Taliban practice.
The movie flashes back to Amir and Hassan’s childhood, when they were 10 or 11 years old, and shows their fondness for stories, for flying kites, and for American movies like “The Magnificent Seven” and “Bullit.” Their relationship reaches both its climax and nadir during the annual kite tournament. Amir flies the kite, while Hassan holds the spool and directs him, much as an expert caddy will sometimes direct a professional golfer. As a vanquished kite flutters to the ground, Hassan chases it through the streets of Kabul. A gang of teenage Sunni toughs spot him and decide to pay him back for previously defying them. They catch Hassan and assault him.
This action is the moral crux of the entire story. Amir witnesses the assault and does nothing to help Hassan. The viewer is reminded of his father’s words that “A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.” His father is a man who will stand up for a principle, even at the risk of his own life. Hassan, the son of his father’s servant, is also such a person. The contrast between son and servant is striking and tragic. The viewer is able to like Amir, in spite of his fault, because heroism is a quality so rare that we don’t despise people who don’t have it. Heroism is like unconditional love, whose presence in a person is not an indictment of others without it.
Amir’s cowardice eats away at him until it drives him to injustice against Hassan. He tempts Hassan to do things that it is not in Hassan’s character to do. Amir wants Hassan to be guilty of a moral failing, so that he doesn’t feel like such a failure himself. In a final act of characteristic bravery, Hassan takes the guilt of a false accusation upon himself, even though he is innocent. Rather than shaming Amir into telling the truth, this last sacrifice hardens Amir’s heart against Hassan. And that is the last Amir ever sees of Hassan.
As cowardice is the moral heart of the story, the idea of theft as the origin of all sins is the spiritual heart of the story, as Amir’s father explains:
“Now, no matter what the mullah teaches, there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. When you kill a man, you his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal someone’s right to fairness. There is no act more wretched than stealing.”
Amir’s moral theft creates a debt that can be redeemed only by a great sacrifice on his part. In a sense, he has to become a kite runner and retrieve a highly valued trophy. That is why when Rahim Khan calls and tells him “You have one more chance to be good,” Amir knows he must return.
That is the gist of this complicated and beautiful story. The acting by the boys is nuanced and touching. The scenery is convincingly bleak. The terror of the Taliban’s rule strikes a stark contrast between the Kabul of Amir’s childhood and the prison he finds in adulthood. There is nothing morally objectionable in the film, and what violence there is, is a necessary component of the story. The concluding scene contains a joy-filled, redemptive moment when Amir cries out “For you, a thousand times over!” in an echo of his friend Hassan’s words many years before.
“The Kite Runner” is the best and most morally uplifting movie that has appeared on the screen probably since “Luther.” This is the only time I have ever recommended that viewers read the book and see the movie.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: None
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.