What is the worst thing you have done to a friend or family member? Lied to them? Stolen from them? After the dreadful deed, did they forgive you? And, more importantly, did you forgive yourself? While I am sometimes nostalgic for lost friendships, I know that for various reasons, history, distance, and self-preservation, there are some friendships better left in the past. But with exceptional friendships, when two souls collide and recognize and accept the humanity in each other, I believe we should all make the effort to sustain that growth.
In the new movie, The Kite Runner, director Marc Forster poignantly portrays the main character’s release from guilt as he negotiates memories of his betrayal of his childhood friend. The scenes of innocent, yet precarious, friendship between two boys, Amir and Hassan (the son of Amir’s father’s servant), focus on what it means to be a true friend while mirroring the gritty conflict of Afghanistan’s volatile political and cultural history. The opening credits of Arabic-inspired calligraphy seem to represent the connection of all the characters in the story. This is a story of two boys in 1975, but also one that stretches the limits of culture and time to represent the most important of redemption stories.
The movie begins with a phone call to the now-adult main character, Amir, played by British/Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla, who has been hiding a shameful secret for over 25 years. The voice over the phone lines urges him that “There is a way to be good again.”
This leads me to question what it takes to be good again. When we sin, do we essentially become bad? Christians are taught that redemption is solely brought about through Christ’s sacrifice? Can it possibly be this simple? Is it possible that a symbolic act on Christ’s part can, in fact, save all of us from all our sins? If this is the case, why are we often unable to forgive ourselves? Why do we feel compelled to perform penance when we are told that our debt has been paid? Is there some action—work, not faith—required of us beyond believing in Christ’s gift of salvation? Do we, as human beings, have a debt to pay to fellow human beings (and animals) when we have wronged them? Can salvation truly be free, or, in order to believe that we deserve it, do we need to make retribution before being able to open ourselves to salvation? Is the act of salvation tied to the act of self-forgiveness? For Amir, achieving redemption requires more than faith in a Savior.
In The Kite Runner, despite the two main characters being from different cultural backgrounds (Pashtun and Hazara) that traditionally clash, the boys are raised together from birth, their fathers’ close relationship setting the stage for the boys’ relationship. Hassan (played by newcomer Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) serves Amir (played by newcomer Zekeria Ebrahimi) cheerfully. He is the all-sacrificing Christ-figure, the one who, even in death, calls Amir to redemption. His character is an uncanny mix of innocence and strength. As a child, he is not petulant or resentful. As an adult, he reaches out to Amir even when one would expect the opposite.
Amir’s personal conflict stems from his perceived inability to please his father, Baba (played by Homayoun Ershadi). Amir tries to win approval by writing stories that his father never reads. To his father’s disappointment, Amir is a coward; he relies on Hassan to defend them from their bully, Assef. Amir’s only adult supporter is his father’s friend Rahim Khan, played by Shaun Toub, to whom Baba despairs that Amir will ever amount to much by saying, “A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who won’t stand up for anything.” Rahim Khan, however, sides with Amir and encourages him in his writing. He willingly plays the role of a mother figure in the young man’s life, encouraging, comforting, and balancing Baba’s harshness. He also acts as Amir’s conscience throughout the movie, urging him to confess, to make things right.
As a child, Amir finds that the only way to gain his father’s limited approval is to win the traditional kite-flying contest.
Hassan always knows exactly where a kite will drop once its string has been cut. He becomes Amir’s kite runner (hence the book and movie title), chasing down fallen kites as Amir works his way to winning the competition. As Amir cuts down the last opponent’s kite, Hassan, eyes shining, shouts a farewell, “For you, a thousand times over,” and triumphantly runs to collect the trophy that Hassan will carry home to gain his father’s approval. This is the last time we see Hassan smile.
Amir then commits the shocking act that requires redemption. He encounters his best friend being bullied, and ultimately raped by Assef, but does nothing to stop or even acknowledge this act. He simply hides, watching his friend’s assault, and then acts ignorant when Hassan limps to him with the kite. This act of cowardice so haunts Amir that just when we think that it cannot get worse and that Amir will confess or at least make up with Hassan, he further betrays his friend by forcing Hassan and his father out of their home. As Hassan and his father leave, Baba’s confusion and pain at the loss of the servant he grew up with do not prompt a last-minute confession from Amir. It seems as if he will truly have to live with his guilt as all chances of redemption pass by.
Amir and his father flee to the United States when the Russians invade Afghanistan. Amir graduates from community college and establishes a relationship with his father only when Baba is no longer a successful businessman and philanthropist. There is another opportunity for Amir to come clean when he asks a woman to marry him and she tells him of her less-than-exemplary reputation. This is the perfect time for Amir to also confess, but he simply clams up. The moment passes. As Baba grows weak and dies, Amir still does not confess.
And then he receives the phone call from Rahim Khan. The way for Amir “to be good again” is to return to Afghanistan. He learns that the Taliban have Hassan and his wife and Amir can redeem himself by rescuing Hassan’s son, Sohrab, from the Taliban leader Assef—the same man who bullied Hassan. Even Amir’s rescue seems to go wrong as Assef realizes who Amir is and refuses to allow Sohrab to leave. It is Sohrab who takes on the role of his father when he uses his father’s slingshot to shoot Assef in the eye, an act of vindication, although he does not know its significance.
Upon returning to the United States with Sohrab, Amir is unsure how to relate to this traumatized boy with silent eyes. While walking through the park several months later, he buys a kite and, while flying the kite for Sohrab, shouts, “For you, a thousand times over,” echoing Hassan’s greeting to Amir 25 years earlier. As Amir flies the kite, we are left with a view of Sohrab’s hesitant smile. Things are going to be right. Amir is good again. And with this release of guilt, Amir’s conscience is light enough to soar with the kites.
As a side note, the behind-the-scenes drama of The Kite Runner movie garnered attention with a story of its own. Amid possible reprisals and reaction in response to the rape scene, the movie’s release date was postponed so Paramount could secure the safety of the child stars. They were moved from Kabul to the United Arab Emirates, where the movie studio will continue to support them until they wish to return to their home country.
Watch the trailer for The Kite Runner
Maria Rankin-Brown has lived on several continents (Africa, Asia, North America) but now writes from Angwin, CA where she teaches English at Pacific Union College, including a Great Books class where The Kite Runner is taught.