Story of forgiveness lifts us high as a kite

1/2/2008

The Kite Runner
Stars:
Khalid Abdalla, Homayoun Ershadi, Shaun Toub, Atossa Leoni,  Saïd Taghmaoui, Zekeria Ebrahibi, Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, Ali Danish Bakhytari
Director:  Marc Forster
Rating: PG-13 for strong thematic material including the rape of a child, violence and brief strong language

By Gregg Tubbs
United Methodist News Service

I forgive you.” With the exception of “I love you,” could there be another phrase more filled with healing and release? Receiving forgiveness — release from a terrible debt and the burden of guilt — is the message at the heart of Khaled Hosseini’s acclaimed 2003 novel, The Kite Runner, a parable-like tale of childhood friendship shattered by guilt and betrayal that finally leads to poetic redemption.

The question is: Could a film do it justice?

Director Marc Forster’s The Kite Runner is a striking success — told with grace, sensitivity and lyrical power. 

Forster has built quite a resume, including Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction. Throughout, he has shown an uncanny ability to adapt his directorial style to best serve the story, essentially showing himself to be a master storyteller, not merely a stylist. And this is essential for The Kite Runner, because above all else, it’s a marvelous story. As a film, Kite Runner is light on action, special effects and star power, but overflowing with human drama, endearing relationships and cataclysmic life choices. A love story of a different kind, it exquisitely explores the depths of love as it applies to friendship, family and forgiveness. Since what happens, and to whom, is so important to The Kite Runner, I will take care not to reveal too much of the story.

Beginning in 1978, the story spans more than 20 years. It centers on the improbable friendship between two young boys, Amir and Hassan. Amir is a bookish dreamer from Kabul’s upper class while Hassan is the son of his family’s servant from the lower “Hazarra” class. Despite their differences in social status and education, the two are thick as thieves. But their friendship will be tested. In face of this challenge, one will show true devotion, even self sacrifice, while the other will respond in weakness, fear and self-protection. Their lives will be marked forever by these events and their choices, and only after many years will past sins be made right and their deep love come full circle.

Viewers should prepare for an emotional roller coaster ride that may leave you drained, but deeply satisfied. You should know that the film (as the book did) includes the rape of a child. I believe Forster handles the scene with as much taste and restraint as he can, while preserving all the emotional power the scene deserves.

But there are also moments of sublime joy, such as when Amir and Hassan win a neighborhood kite-flying competition. In fact, Amir and Hassan’s friendship is one of the most believable and touching portrayals of youthful devotion I’ve ever seen. And more than just pulling emotional strings, the film will leave you wiser as well, particularly through Amir’s knowing and principled father who instructs his son in both word and action.

This is a truly international story, traversing Afghanistan, Pakistan and America. Many languages are spoken and much of the movie relies on English subtitles. But don’t let this dissuade you, because the story is universal.

While I got an enlightening glimpse at the rich, ancient culture and traditions of Afghanistan, I was most struck by how this story, with its themes of class tension, honor and fading traditions could easily have been transported to almost any setting where friendship and prejudice clash, and where real character is revealed against the facade of status.

The story also offers a sobering lesson on religious extremism. Though focusing on the ultra-strict Muslim Taliban who are seen stoning an adulterer, we should remember that in colonial America, similarly strict Puritans burned falsely accused witches at the stake.

The Kite Runner is a rich and rewarding tale that explores redemptive love, the power of forgiveness and those things that are universal to all people — friendship, family, pride, strength as well as weakness and, as one character says in the film, “how to be good again.” In fact, it’s never too late to make right an old wrong. The National Board of Review has already named The Kite Runner as one of the 10 best films of the year. Take the time to find out why.