We hosted a preview of “The Kite Runner” last month. The film has now opened to mixed reviews in limited release around the country this past week. Writing about the film after the preview last month, I thought the reviews that would accompany the opening might help me sort out my thoughts about the film. The reviews are in fact helpful, offering a lot of insight into the film.
And yet it would be a shame if potential viewers were discouraged from seeing the film because of intelligent, mostly negative reviews such as those by Manohla Dargis (New York Times) and Ty Burr (Boston Globe). Equally intelligent, mostly positive reviews by Ann Hornaday (Washington Post) and John Podhoretz (Weekly Standard) are more open to the film on its own terms. (In today’s Washington Post, Robin Givhan takes up one strand of the film that had completely escaped me.)
The novel on which the film is based seems to have become beloved in the few years since it was published. It occurred to me watching the film that both the novel and the film might subsist in the realm of popular art in which a story’s mythic qualities allow it to be translated into a varierty of forms. Think of Dickens, or Alexander Dumas, or To Kill a Mockingbird (which Burr mentions in his review). The comments below repeat those I posted here after the screening last month.
I was impressed by the film on a number of grounds. It is a film for adults, addressing a serious subject with a dramatic and engaging story. The film is rated PG-13, but it is not aimed at a dumbed-down teen-age audience. I found it a powerful look at pre-liberation Afghanistan and a moving portrait of the protagonists’ emigration from Afghanistan to America.
The film also ingeniously manages the balance between the characters’ speaking in their native language at the opening of the film with a transition to English through most of the rest of the film. It is an aspect of the film that, along with its lack of a recognizable star, gives it an air of authenticity.
The moral center of the film appears to be the father of one of the two boys whose friendship gives rise to the story. His condemnation of theft as the law from which all others are derived is therefore ironic in light of the secret at the heart of the story revealed toward the end of the film. His son attempts to redeem both his own and his father’s failings.
The one character who is not so flawed is the son’s friend Hassan, who embodies the meaning of true friendship, and his example remains in my mind. The film’s portrayal of the father in Afghanistan and as a man of reduced stature sacrificing for his son in the United States also remains stamped in my mind.
It seems to me that the film captures some of the complexity and irresolution of real life in a satisfying and thought-provoking way. I would add only that I was intrigued by the film’s mix of graphic realism, symbolic imagery, and myth. These somewhat discordant elements are imperfectly brought together, but they add to the film’s power.
The novel on which the film is based seems to have been loved by everyone who has read it. My wife is one of them, and she loved the film as well. She found the film’s portrait of radical Islam in action (I won’t soon forget “the beard patrol”) especially worthy. She wants pretty much everyone to see the film to see what the Taliban were and are all about. We sat with Mrs. Rocket, who was also moved by the film.
I stuck around in the lobby afterward to debrief the Power Line readers in attendance. With one exception (an ophthamologist who was repelled by the characters’ flaws and the mythic slingshot about which I can’t say more without spoiling the plot), they were profoundly moved by the film. “A thousand times over” is the verbal token of deep friendship expressed in the film which I have borrowed to amplify the “thumbs up” rating of our Power Line readers in attendance.
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