Beasts of No Nation: A review, of sorts (No Spoilers)

I didn’t include Beasts of No Nation in my October “favorites” post because those posts are about Little Things, and this film is anything but that. Beasts of No Nation is an immersive experience, and it’s a heavy one. A powerful one. It didn’t feel right lumping it in with Scream Queens and salsa.

 

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The crafting of Beasts of No Nation demonstrates exquisite mastery; if you’re into movies to appreciate the fine art of film-making, I’d say it’s a must-see. However, be warned: Beasts of No Nation is difficult to watch… it’s a must-see for reasons beyond its artistic merits.

There came a point where Callaghan just stopped. As tension tightened our throats in the scene that ended it for him, he muttered, “I don’t want to watch this anymore.” I understood where he was coming from. I was on the verge of stopping, myself. He got up and said, “I’m sorry… you can watch the rest if you want, but I don’t need to see this!”

The challenge when watching a war drama so finely rendered is that you’re there. The film engulfs you, and you become a witness to gut-wrenching circumstances and atrocities appalling beyond belief. It’s harrowing, it’s heart-breaking, and it took me two more days to finish watching Beasts of No Nation after we stopped (and Callaghan had gone to France for his business trip). It took two days because I couldn’t watch more than a chunk at a time.

While all movies of this nature don’t trigger my PTSD, enough of them do that I generally avoid them. I couldn’t turn away from this one, though, and I don’t mean that in a train-wreck kind of way. It was more like, I have to keep watching because at some point something has to happen that will restore my faith in humanity.

While the story in Beasts of No Nation is a work of fiction, the tragedy of it is real. The film depicts a reality that’s largely overlooked in our ongoing lament over global atrocities and human rights violations. We commonly bespeak outrage over horrendous things that are done to little girls, practices we know to be inhumane and abominable. Comparatively, we give negligible thought to the horrendous things that are done to little boys. We forget to acknowledge the trials of male children in some war-torn countries… trials that, as this film so brutally illustrates, result in bodily harm, psychological damage, and an obliteration of childhood innocence too sad to contemplate.

I’d never seen Callaghan so upset by a movie that he had to quit watching it. As for me, I’m usually dry-eyed while most everyone grabs at tissues… but there was one scene in Beasts of No Nation that had me crying, and it wasn’t due to illusory maneuvers on the director’s part. The director avoided any semblance of heart-string-pulling and simply let the power of authenticity do its dirty work, a feat allowed by his elegantly nuanced talent. My sorrow felt heavy, like a sorrow for the entire planet.

The director, Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective), also wrote the film’s screenplay (based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala). I’ve seen several movies this year that I thought deserved serious Academy attention; Beasts of No Nation joins them and rises – urgently – straight to the top. I’ll go so far as to say that I hope it captures awards not only for itself, but for humankind. Fukunaga’s adapted screenplay and directing ought to garner Oscar nominations, at least, and actors Idris Elba and Abraham Attah deserve the highest accolades for their searing performances. They were both brilliant. The cinematography and costume design were also stunning. All of the art that went into the making of this film took my breath away.

Here’s the trailer:

 

 

Beasts of No Nation will do more than tug at your heart-strings… it’ll just seize your whole heart and crush it. But this film needs to be seen. Child soldiers need a place in the discourse of the problem of world suffering, and if swallowing our horror through the viewing of films like this can help bring awareness to the plight of these children, then we need to do that.

Child soldiers are not out there bearing arms and killing people because they had aspirations to do so as healthy children with sound minds. They are victims.

Beasts of No Nation elucidates one of the ways in which art is important and even essential for the well-being of the human race. We can’t continue to keep our eyes closed while certain things are happening in the world, and this is why Oscar-generated hype over Beasts of No Nation could be seen not only as well-deserved, but necessary. Everyone’s attention should be brought to this film.

Beasts of No Nation is Netflix’ first original film, being to movies what House of Cards is to television series. The movie streamed on Netflix the same day it appeared in theatres. If you have Netflix and you want to see Beasts of No Nation, it’s there for the watching.

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