I went to a pre-release screening of The Kite Runner directed by Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland), which will arrive in theaters on December 14. The film is based on the novel of the same name, written by Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini. Since its publication date, The Kite Runner has lived on the New York Times bestsellers list. Despite eight million copies in print worldwide, I’ll admit to being one of the few members of the book-buying public who hasn’t read this novel. That said, there are few movies I see that make me want to read the book. This was one of them.
The Kite Runner is about betrayal and redemption, about getting a second chance to make things right. The action centers on two young boys growing up in Kabul before the Russian invasion of Afghanistan: wealthy, privileged Amir, and Hassan, his best friend, defender, and son of the family’s live-in servant. When courage-challenged Amir witnesses the sexual assault of Hassan by neighborhood bullies, he does nothing to help. In the days that follow, Amir is forced to look into Hassan’s eyes and see his own cowardice. Unable to cope, he falsely accuses Hassan of theft, forcing him out of a job, a home, and Amir’s life. Much of the film is set in Kabul, Afghanistan (using locations in China as stand-ins). The period spans from pre-Russian rule through the Taliban takeover. Most of the dialogue is in Dari (Afghan Persian) with English subtitles.
Here’s a trailer for the movie:
While in line waiting to enter the theater, I heard people chatting about a controversy surrounding the film that had delayed its release for six weeks. I was curious to know more, so this amateur sleuth went home and scoured the Internet for information. According to the New York Times, the brouhaha centers on the scene depicting the rape of Hassan. Family members of the young Afghan actors are afraid that the sexually explicit action will stir religious and ethnic tensions and foster violence against the boys. They wanted the scene stripped from the movie. Paramount Vantage refused, but for the children’s safety, they agreed to temporarily move them out of Afghanistan before the film is released.
The young actor who plays Hassan asserts that he was not informed of the rape scene prior to accepting the role. Director Forster says not so. He argues that all of the principals and their families were briefed and that the scene was twice rehearsed before it was filmed. But even if that wasn’t the case, the movie wrapped a year ago. So I asked myself, why the controversy and why now? The scene in question is not overly graphic, nor it is exploitive. Simply stated, it is essential to bringing the stakes to the level of a compelling story. In the conservative religious milieu that was and is Afghanistan, it helps the viewer understand the gravity of not only the act but also Amir’s spinelessness.
So once again, the age-old question boils down to this: Does an artist cave in to political/religious/cultural correctness by removing or restructuring a controversial scene, or does he stick to his vision and the truth of the story? And how does he know when he has crossed the line?