September 29, 2009

Surprises Await in 'God Grew Tired of Us'

I'm not sure how Trudi picked this one on Netflix. Frankly, I never know what's next in her queue until the film arrives at our apartment.

Well, to quote The Beatles, I should've known better. Because Trudi's latest pick, God Grew Tired of Us: The Story of Lost Boys of Sudan, is an extraordinary film that shouldn't have slipped under my rather insular radar. But I'm glad I saw it late rather than never. And I urge all my readers, if they haven't already, to do the same.

GGTOU tells the story of Sudan's Lost Boys, a group of kids who, amidst the terror of war, were forced to migrate, on foot, from Sudan to Ethiopia and then to Kenya--all the while undergoing unimaginable horrors that no person, let alone a child, should experience. These boys finally reached shelter at a camp in Kenya, though not without cost: Starvation, disease and the evils of war claimed many children along the way, and the boys learned to bury their comrades at an early age. The camp, a United Nations facility, served as a means for the boys to become friends and family to each other, as many were orphaned during the Sudanese conflict, but the camp had limited food, and survival remained a struggle.

Then some of the boys got the opportunity through the camp to make a new home in the United States. And that's when a different kind of struggle emerged for them.

The film, directed by Christopher Dillon Quinn (who also wrote it) and Tommy Walker, focuses on three Lost Boys: Panther, John and Daniel. John, a tall, sensitive young man, settles in Syracuse, N.Y., while Panther and Daniel head to Pittsburgh. Initially, there is a sense of relief when watching their transition to America following the horrors they endured in Sudan, and there's even some amusing moments as they grow acclimated to staples such as refrigerators and supermarkets.

But the amusement stops once the Lost Boys get jobs and begin to support themselves...and start thinking of home.

The film carries a sad subtext. Only a select few of these youths were tapped to journey to America, and many of their friends were left behind in the camp. The loneliness and sadness that Panther, John and Daniel face are expressed quite frankly in the film, but one of the questions that arises is why no mental health services were provided to them following their arrival in the States? There's even a scene in the movie that outlines how one of the boys went through what appeared to be a nervous breakdown and had to be placed under observation. These kids saw what no one should see, all the while maintaining a responsibility for each other that would be unthinkable in the U.S. The stress of that burden must've been immense. So why weren't any professionals assigned to these youths in an effort to ease their transition to the States and assuage any feelings of loneliness and despondence?

One of GGTOU's other issues--this time, in terms of the quality of the film making itself--is that the narration, by Nicole Kidman, is delivered in a monotone that seems designed to call as little attention as possible to her involvement in the documentary. It seems a bit disingenuous; as long as her voice is there, wouldn't it make sense to use all of its nuances and inflections to the fullest possible extent? In this reviewer's opinion, that would've given the proceedings even more power...though it could be argued that narration was hardly necessary in the first place, owing to the nature of this tremendously powerful subject.

Thankfully, GGTOU doesn't pull any punches in its depiction of the boys' struggles--overseas or in America. The graphic, horrifying images of war and starvation in Sudan that are shown early on in the film contrast with the youths' gallant attempts to support themselves, as well as their remaining families and friends, with terribly low wages from jobs that they often take two or three of just to make ends meet. And there are many ethereal moments in the film, especially toward the end, when we follow the boys' successes in their fields, as well as their outreaches toward family members and girlfriends.

But ultimately, GGTOU's effect is sobering: It calls attention to war's terrible impact on innocents--a disaster that is still occurring--and shows that despite the fact that some may be saved, the struggles will continue...unless action on a worldwide scale is taken to address the conflict. I thank Trudi for putting this one on Netflix. I wouldn't have known of it without her doing so, and that would've been my loss.

No comments:

Post a Comment