Writers: Cary Joji Fukunaga (screenplay),Uzodinma Iweala(based on the novel by)
“Sun, why are you shining at this world? I am wanting to catch you in my hands, to squeeze you until you can not shine no more. That way, everything is always dark and nobody’s ever having to see all the terrible things that are happening here.” –Deep within the West African jungle, a small boy by the name of Agu looks up and wishes all his hardships will end and that the sun, as well as his sword, will no longer shine.
Beasts of No Nation, a film directed by Cary Fukunaga and exclusive to Netflix streaming service, immediately captivates the audience through a scene where Agu (Abraham Attah) and his family discuss the brutal civil war in their country. As the rebels and the government push from both sides of the country, Agu and his family are trapped and their village quickly becomes the buffer zone for both armies. While many people flee, Agu, his father and his brother are forced to stay behind as all the busses who are leaving the village are full of women and children. Agu and his family are forced to hide, and it isn’t until government soldiers raid their home and bring them out to be executed that the emotional connections in the audience build. Agu is able to flee into the dense, African jungle but is alone. However, shortly after his escape from death, he is captured by a rebel army unit led by a ruthless commandment (Idris Elba). Forced to become a child soldier and kill those fighting for the government, Agu reconciles with the brutal situations of war. Throughout his experience as a child soldier, he is exposed to guerilla warfare, drugs and rape, all of which remind us that this story is not completely fictional.
The contrast of the bloody war to the innocence of a child is often reflected in the film as Agu is forced to deal with tougher situations. In one scene, after Agu and the rest of the army ambush a convoy of government soldiers, Agu as part of his initiation, is forced to kill a captured soldier. This scene as well as countless others are shocking as we see Agu battle his moral values his father taught him, to the brutal way of life in the time of war. Throughout the film, we see the slow, gruesome transformation of a young, innocent boy, to a corrupted child soldier.
In addition to various themes of violence and torture, Agu relationship with the Commandment shows the gruesomeness of the war, but not just within the fighting. Agu is raped by the Commandment and the true horror comes in seeing Agu’s passiveness in the situation. Agu as well as other child soldiers in the unit do not fight the Commandment because they know that it is how they will get more food, clothing and water as well as avoid getting beaten.
The structure of power parallels to many other literary and historical references such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm and the civil wars in West Africa that the story is based upon. However, the Commandment is not just a corruptible leader. He often offers motivational speeches and is able to convince his men that the seemingly meaningless war they are fighting is significant.
“All of you that have never been listened to before and have seen your family killed, huh, you now have something that stands for you,” the Commandment states. “You now have something that stands for you!”
This speech by the Commandment is directed especially towards the child soldiers in the unit as most of the have been “rescued” by the Commandment from being killed in the war. These speeches, despite the brutal situations, invigorate the soldiers and the audience into believing that presence in this world is significant.
While inspirational dialogue plays an important role in the film, the sounds of war are just as important. From the sounds of bullets whizzing over the heads of soldiers to the sloshy sounds of footsteps in muddy trenches, the film places in a dense variety of sound bytes to evolve the audience from just watching the film, to becoming engrossed in it. In addition, the chants of the soldiers ricochet throughout the jungle about their bravery, courage, and sorrow for their long lost family. Beasts of No Nation focuses more on the development of a family through war and suffering, than the destruction it ironically causes.
Beasts of No Nation is an interesting film. It is one of the first ever to be produced as well as be exclusive to Netflix streaming service. While it is one of the most emotional films I have seen all year, many Hollywood Blockbusters have overshadowed it such as The Martian, Bridge of Spies and Steve Jobs. From its horrifying images of child soldiers dying in Africa to the audio of jungle warfare, Beasts of No Nation deserves more recognition, especially since it can be watched instantly by any Netflix user.
By: Brian Hall