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The Kite Runner: Poignant But Brutal

Logically, I understand that The Kite Runner is a beautiful, stirring work of storytelling. It's a tender homage to the power of brotherhood and forgiveness. It's a song of redemption. Having read the arresting novel by Khaled Hosseini, I knew all this going into the screening. I also knew that the movie, like the book, might emotionally wreck me. And it did.

At its heart, The Kite Runner is about the enduring strength of love between men — brothers, friends, fathers and sons. The sweet relationship between Afghani best friends Amir and Hassan is the focus of the film, made somewhat complicated by the class differences between the two boys. Amir is the son of a wealthy intellectual from whom he consistently seeks approval and praise. Hassan is the son of Amir's father's servant. This is at times uncomfortable, but it doesn't deplete the tremendously innocent and emotional bond the two boys share.

Indeed, the most extraordinary thing about this relationship is the very image of purity it presents. It takes me back to childhood friendships I remember having, but it's also separate from my experience because of the simplicity of the boys' lives. Movie watching for them is a huge treat, not a given. Amir can read while Hassan cannot, so Amir reads Hassan's favorite stories to him. Their favorite activity is competitive kite flying. The beauty of this boyhood connection often moved me to tears. Yet the story doesn't remain innocent for long. To find out what I mean,


Amir witnesses Hassan being brutalized by bullies, and does nothing to stop it. This event causes a shift in the boys' friendship, and Amir's guilt haunts him his entire life. Amir moves to the U.S. with his father and eventually marries a woman, though they are unable to have children. When Amir learns that Hassan and his wife were killed by the Taliban, and that Hassan's young son has been taken in — and regularly brutatlized — by a Taliban leader, he travels back to his homeland, determined to save the child.

Here's what I don't get: For whom, exactly, was this movie made? Those who have read the book well understand the emotional meat grinder the story will put them through. I myself thought I would be prepared for some of the more vicious scenes, thinking that nothing could be worse than those conjured up by my imagination. Unfortunately, the opposite is true: I now have the vivid memories of these scenes, clear images of, say, a woman being beaten to death by stoning, that continue to haunt and nauseate me. These pictures are not easily chased away, and at times they arise unbidden.

The movie is well done in many technical regards. The screenplay adaptation is an efficient consolidation of an expansive story, and the performances — especially on the parts of the two little boys — are deeply affecting. The underlying message is ultimately one of love and forgiveness, but is it worth it to go through so much to understand that message? I suppose peoples' thresholds for this sort of thing vary from person to person, so I'll let you decide for yourself. Just consider yourself — and your tear ducts — warned.

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