Film of the Book: The Kite Runner

Directed by Marc Forster (2007)

the-kite-runner-poster

From the book review:

Two young boys grow up side by side in Kabul in the 1970s. Though in some ways they are best friends, they are not equal. The narrator, Amir, is the son of a rich man, whom he calls Baba, and Hassan is the son of Baba’s servant, Ali. Hassan acts as Amir’s servant as well as his friend. But, more importantly in an Afghanistan divided along lines of class and religion, Amir is a Pashtun Sunni, part of the ruling class, while Hassan is a Hazara Shi’a – a group reviled and mocked. One day, during a kite-fighting competition, something will happen that will drive these friends apart, in a foreshadowing of the wars that will soon break the country apart. Many years later, as Amir returns to Kabul from his new home in America, his mission to put right some of the things left unresolved from his childhood mirrors the question of whether this broken country can ever find resolutions to its bitter divisions.

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

 

Film of the Book

 

For the most part, the film is a faithful rendering of the book with all the most important plot points (bar one, which I’ll come to later) and lines of dialogue included. The book is written in English, but the film varies the language depending on location, so that much of it is subtitled. Personally, I’m not keen on watching subtitled foreign language films, but I do think the decision makes sense in this film – it would have felt very false if the boys were speaking English in the Kabul sections of the film.

The two young child actors who play Amir and Hassan are very good, both managing to give their performances a feeling of naturalness. In fact, the casting in general is fine – no performance stood out for me as particularly great, but equally none were bad, so it has the feeling of a true ensemble piece rather than a star vehicle.

the-kite-runner-amir-and-hassan
Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada as Hassan and Zekeria Ebrahimi as young Amir

When watching a film soon after reading the book, I find it can be quite hard to know how well the story is being told. In this case, I felt that I may well not have got the nuances had I not read the book. The story has two main strands – Amir’s guilt over what he sees as his betrayal of Hassan, and the parallel being drawn between the breakdown of their friendship and the horror of what is happening to Afghanistan. Amir’s desire for redemption is a personalisation of the question of whether Afghanistan can ever be put back together again with its own divisions healed. In the film, I wasn’t convinced that Amir’s guilt came over terribly well, meaning that he actually came over as rather unlikeable and unsympathetic. (Admittedly, I didn’t sympathise with him in the book as much as I felt I was expected to either.) But I didn’t think the parallels between the personal and political came over clearly in the film at all, leaving it as simply a story of Amir’s personal journey rather than a symbol of the nation’s struggle.

Homayoun Ershadi as Baba
Homayoun Ershadi as Baba

Part of my problem with it is that, in an effort to condense it to a filmable length, it becomes a series of episodes rather than the free flowing story in the book. The book is narrated by Amir, so that we are privy to his innermost thoughts and emotions – always hard to portray in movie form, of course, and here I didn’t feel the film really captured it. As a result, I found I was distanced from the characters on screen, even Amir – watching their actions, rather than feeling their emotions. Sometimes the script tries to shoehorn in a shortcut to replace the stuff for which there hasn’t been room, and this can come over as totally false and forced. For example, adult Amir and his wife Soraya are unable to have children, which is not only a source of sorrow to them, but is important in their reaction to the child that Amir brings into their lives in the latter part of the story. In the film, this is portrayed by Soraya referring to Amir’s newly published book as “your baby” with heavy significance, rolling her sad eyes portentously and receiving a consoling hug from Amir. Hmm! This was the point where I first giggled inappropriately…

Khalid Abdalla as adult Amir and Atossa Leoni as Soraya
Khalid Abdalla as adult Amir and Atossa Leoni as Soraya

…but that wasn’t nearly as bad as my second bout of unseemly laughter, which I do feel really bad about, since the subject matter certainly isn’t amusing. When Amir has returned to Kabul as an adult, he is trying to contact a man who might be able to help him find Sohrab, the boy he’s looking for. He attends a football match, and at half-time the officials bring on a man and a woman who have been found guilty of adultery. In a scene of horrific brutality, the woman is then stoned. In the book, it’s a particularly powerful moment, showing the utter inhumanity of life under the Taliban. In the film… well, unfortunately, the profusion of false beards suddenly made me think of The Life of Brian… look! Here’s a screenshot… is it just me?

the-kite-runner-crowd

I fear it probably is… but whether or not, it totally destroyed the drama for me as all I could hear in my head was Brian’s mother saying “He’s a very naughty boy!” And I must say, the film’s superficial portrayal of the horrors of the Taliban regime felt about as authentic as Monty Python too.

After that, the film never really recovered for me, I’m afraid. So when, for reasons entirely unexplained, the director chose to turn the major climax into a kind of action thriller scene and followed it up by totally omitting the bit that explains the final trauma which drives young Sohrab into muteness, I wasn’t as bothered as I otherwise might have been, since I’d been thrown completely out of the story by then anyway.

the-kite-runner-kite-flying

I know this sounds as if I hated the film, and I really didn’t. As I said, it’s mostly a faithful reproduction of the book and is worth watching. But, for me, it didn’t achieve either the depth or the feeling of the original, and in the end felt workmanlike rather than wonderful.

★ ★ ★

So the choice is easy this time…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

the kite runner2

THE BOOK!

* * * * *

55 thoughts on “Film of the Book: The Kite Runner

    • Yes, these books that happen largely inside someone’s heads are never very successful when transferred to film, I think. Haha! There was another image of the bad guy in white robes and shades that made it look as if he was a cross between Jesus and Elvis… but I decided I’d showed enough of my shallowness for one day… 😉

  1. Oh dear, any time a “serious” film starts making you think of Monty Python quotes in your head, you know they’ve gone off the rails a bit. On the whole, I fear that MP may have ruined any kind of mob scene for me – especially ones where someone is trying to reason with the crowd – as I also find myself thinking of the Holy Grail scene where they want to burn the witch. As an aside, my husband tells me that the reason he didn’t become an aerospace engineer is because in high school, when he ought to have been focusing on mathematics, he discovered Monty Python, and spent most of his spare time – and memory – learning to reel off lines of dialogue. And the fact that he still has most of the MP sketches memorized, but remembers very little of anything else he learned in high school, may in fact say something about the state of our public schools. But that’s probably a topic for another post. 😉

    • Hahaha! Yes, I can remember the lyrics of so many David Bowie songs, but almost no poetry we were taught! I was never a huge MP fan at the time, but they’ve kinda pervaded the whole world of culture and now it’s hard NOT to think of them. In this one, the beards were the definite trigger though… I found myself gazing at the crowd trying to work out which ones were real and which false…. 😉

  2. Personally, I’m not keen on watching subtitled foreign language films

    Ha! And to think of the efforts some of us go to to get the subtitled rather than the dubbed versions of foreign movies . . .

  3. Oh, I am so sorry to hear the film was such a disappointment, FictionFan. But, really, Monty Python? I can’t blame you, in that case, for your feelings. I’d probably have much the same reaction. I think it is hard to create a powerful film that deals with a person’s inner life. Still, this one doesn’t sound like a real success at all, despite a promising first half.

    • Yes, it was disappointing, though I think the whole Monty Python thing might have been more my fault than the film’s! 😉 It is hard to deal with books that are so much about one person’s thoughts – I can see why they thought this film might work, since there’s plenty of action in it, but the action doesn’t really give the same insight. Oh, well!

  4. Didn’t read the book; haven’t seen the film. I’m not sure either is something I desire (particularly at this time of year!), but now I won’t have to, thanks to your outstanding review! Well done, FF, you’ve saved me some time — now, where did I put that hot cocoa and throw blanket?!?

    • I wouldn’t recommend the film really, but the book is excellent – though, I agree, not Christmas reading! We’re having an unusually and ridiculously mild winter so far – I have no excuse for hot chocolate. *thinks* But then, do I need an excuse? 😉

  5. Ha ha ha!!! I grew up watching the Monty Python show and their movies, so I can understand.
    Great review. I can see the difficulty with adapting this book for the big screen. It probably needed a miniseries.

    • I wasn’t a huge fan of MP, but their classic skits were definitely brilliant, and I adored The Life of Brian. Sadly, once the idea popped into my head, it just wouldn’t leave again… 😉 Yes, I’m not sure that these books where you’re inside the head of the main character so much are ever easy to adapt for screen.

  6. Well even if I was going to watch the film I now fear that those beards would bring out a similar bout of inappropriate laughter so, I won’t. I really did like the book and I did feel some sympathy for Amir and I was very impressed with the way the book managed to give a multi-layered tale on what is a huge subject.

    • Yes, I rarely find the film does full justice to a great book, especially one like this where so much of the story involves what’s going on inside Amir’s head. But I still enjoy making the comparison… 🙂

  7. Fabulous review! And I must say, I’m not a fan of the beards, either. And I’m always a fan of the book over the film.

    Just popping in to say Happy Holidays! We put up our Christmas tree today. Am starting to feel in the holiday spirit. It’s been raining for the past week, so California is getting some much needed moisturizing. We’re all still reeling from the election. Things get stranger by the day. Not sure where the new year will find us. Cheers!

    • Jilanne!!! Good to hear from you! 😀

      Yes, it’s been a strange year and I must admit to being more worried about where the world’s heading than at any time in my life. But perhaps it will all fizzle into nothing once the P-E gets embroiled with the actual mechanics of government. We can only hope for a better year next year! Have a great Christmas!

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