Afghanistan, Allegory, the Kite Runner and Knowledge

by pasdelabas

I watched the Kite Runner, the film directed by Marc Forster (2007).  I’ve not read the book but from the comments of various people who had read it I was expecting something very different, something more.  I experienced the film as profoundly allegorical, relating a story of America’s involvement in Afghanistan prior to the current war, what concerns me is the way that redemption if offered.  The film (and the book too if it is judged by its plot and not its style perhaps, its decoration) is a Hollywood product, an epic tale of salvation offering the promise of forgiveness.

The story is told by an American, one who was perhaps born in Afghanistan, but an American no less: the boy Amir (America) in order to protect himself, allows Afghanistan (the servant boy Hassan) to be raped by Assef (the Taliban).  Amir (America) feels guilty and is allowed to redeem his actions later in life by saving Hassan’s son, Sohrab (the real Afghanistan/now America’s nephew) from Assef (by now a member of the Taliban).

It angered me that redemption could be offered in such a way.  The film was rather like a Superman film, the saving of the boy Sohrab at the end a superhuman, that is an imaginary, an entirely fictive event, not one that can be repeated (“don’t try these stunts at home children”).

A religious message lies at the heart of the film: redemption is there yet it is also not possible other than by believing in it.  I found the plot enormously unsatisfying, too well tied up and facile in its imagining of direct retribution: Assef (the Taliban), is literally shot in the eye (“an eye for an eye”) by the saviour Amir (America).

What is the meaning of the film’s allegory then (I can’t say book not having read it and someone may know more please?)?  Is it that America could find salvation in rescuing the serving boy? The boy being the real Afghanistan, the honest, knows-his-place-in-the-world yet has access to extra-ordinary insight, to wisdom?

If this is the case then on one level the book may have been very prescient: America did try to rescue the boy didn’t it, in the current war? The book was published in 2003, the war started in October 2001 – the film/book should be read as an apologia for the war?  Is its huge popularity (best seller in the US 2005)  born of a need to assuage a guilt about a form of colonial power play in which Afghanistan (the serving boy) was betrayed by America (Amir)? Yet is eventually rescued (the war)? In both the book/film these relationships are class ones, power relations between Amir (America) and Assef (Taliban) and Hassan/Sohrab (Afghanistan).

There is something distasteful in the plots imagining – that redemption could be so easy – that we could simply rescue those we have wronged.  A better ending would have been for Amir (America) to find the servant boy Sohrab (Afghanistan), yet Sohrab (Afghanstan) is now himself an active agent in his humiliation?  Indeed he wants to live with the Taliban (Assef) and finds his sexual relations with a man to his taste, not a form of abasement?  Sohrab (the real Afghanistan) would then shoot Amir (America) in the eye and thus, Amir (America) returning home having lost an eye, would be fully conscious of the price of his betrayal and receive no redemption other than knowledge.