Ktismatics

30 April 2008

Kite Runner, 2007

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 7:20 am

[Screenplay by David Benioff, adapted from the novel by Khaled Hosseini. Hosseini, an Afghani by birth, left the country with his family after the king was deposed in a communist coup. I commented in the post on Disgrace that I’d put up a screen shot only if something about this rather disappointing movie stuck with me when I woke up this morning. It did — and here it is.]


Baba, a wealthy Afghani, owns a large estate in Kabul. He has one child, a son named Amir; his wife is dead. A lifelong servant and his son Hassan, members of the oppressed Hazara minority, live in an outbuilding on the property. Despite class and ethnic differences, Amir and Hassan are best friends — at the beginning of the movie anyway. The story begins in the 70s, just after the monarchy has fallen to the communists.

AMIR: The mullahs at school say that drinking is a sin. They say drinkers pay when the Reckoning comes.

BABA (swallows some whiskey): Do you want to know what your father thinks about sin?

AMIR: Yes

BABA: Then I’ll tell you. But first understand this and understand it now: You’ll never learn anything from those bearded idiots.

AMIR: You mean the mullahs?

BABA: I piss on the beards of those self-righteous monkeys. They do nothing but thumb their prayer beads and recite a book in a tongue they don’t even understand. There is only one sin. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation on theft. Do you understand that?

AMIR: No, Baba jan.

BABA: When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to her husband, his children’s right to their father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. Do you see? The is no act more wretched than stealing. A man who takes what’s not his to take, be it a life or a loaf of naan, I spit on such a man. And if I ever cross paths with him, God help him. Do you undersatnd?

AMIR: Yes, Baba.

BABA: Good. (Drains the rest of his whiskey with a single swallow, stands, and returns to the bar.) All this talk of sinning is making me thirsty.

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2 Comments »

  1. “There is only one sin. And that is theft.” Baba here presents a morality based on property rights, which is exactly what John Locke argued in his Second Treatise on Government. That an Afghani Muslim would so closely parallel the thoughts of the founder of Western liberalism probably isn’t too remarkable. Afghanistan had long been controlled by England; Baba spoke English; Baba was part of a landed aristocracy that had been shaped in part by English colonial rule. On the other hand, I suspect that morality based on property rights long precedes Locke’s formalization. After all, the story of the Fall in the Garden of Eden is based on Adam and Eve’s violation of Yahweh’s asserted rights over the forbidden Tree.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 30 April 2008 @ 3:35 pm

  2. Baba makes his little sin = theft speech just after he and his friend have discussed the onslaught of communism in Afghanistan. If communism does away with private property, then stealing becomes impossible and so sin no longer exists. Alternatively, in a communist social order the accumulation of private property is stealing from the people. Mostly what Baba fears here is the communists nationalizing his assets, which he regards as the government stealing from him.

    Kite Runner presents a nostalgic look back at Afghanistan before the communists and the Taliban wrecked the place. Rather than showing some kind of Afghani “high culture,” the movie presents an idealized traditional society, symbolized by the annual kite-flying competition. It demands skill, cunning, bravery, competitiveness, good sportsmanship. But there’s a dark sid too: ethnic bigotry, the ruthless wielding of collective power, evil perpetrated under the guise of purity. This dark side of the tradition coalesces in the Taliban, and the bully from Amir’s childhood grows up to become a highly placed Taliban pedophiliac thug.

    Tbe book was written in 2006 but the story is set in 2000, before 9/11 and the American invasion. I wonder if the author regards the American intervention as a restorative effort or the next wave of brutal destructiveness. Both communism and Islamic orthodoxy embed Afghanistan in a global order that effaces local cultural distinctiveness without replacing it with anything nearly as good. The writers remain silent about whether American neoconservatism is the same sort of intervention.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 1 May 2008 @ 3:06 am


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