A few days ago at home with my family for an evening we sat down to watch a movie together; we decided to watch Netflix's first foray into film-making, Beasts of No Nation. We were riveted to the screen.
For those who have not seen it the movie deals with the issue of child soldiers in African conflicts through the experiences of one little boy. Filmed in Ghana, the movie is set in an unnamed country torn apart by corruption and civil war. The boy, Agu, witnesses the murder of most of his family by government troops as he flees into the jungle to save his life. There he is captured by a rebel group and is trained to fight in the conflict that is developing around him. The movie is harrowing and has a number of disturbing scenes, but it is powerful. The acting is extraordinary and the cinematography is marvellous.
The movie is a work of art, but it is first and foremost a expose of one of the most serious abuses of children in the world - their direct incorporation into the violence and horror of war as combatants. One critic called the movie "an emotionally and spiritually punishing experience" and it is. Agu (wonderfully played by Abraham Attah) suffers what no child should suffer. We witness the destruction not just of a childhood, but of a child. When it is all over for him Agu can no longer see himself as a human being only as a beast - what he has seen, what he has done, has killed him inside. Agu's trauma is not fiction, it is representative of the experience of thousands of children today.
Too often we hear of conflicts in Africa, Asia, South America, but they seem generic: the media reports from the battle fields, we tut, we say how awful it is, but then move on, Those caught in the middle of it all cannot move on, the horror continues and they suffer, and the ones who suffer the most are the children, as usual. When adults seek to take control, to seize power, to create utopia, it is the children who suffer, be it in the jungles, the city streets, the abortion clinics, dysfunctional families.
A few years ago another movie was released called The Kids Are Alright. It related what could only be called the dysfunctional and selfish relationships between adults and in spite of it all the kids in the middle of it all were fine: well adjusted, mature and accepting. But you see the kids are not alright, even if they appear to cope, they are lost - they look to adults to provide stability and safety, but when the adults are self-obsessed, intent on "self-fulfillment" and pleasure or ideology, there is no stability; there is only the constant needs of those who should be making sacrifices for their children. Beasts of No Nation deals with political conflict, but, like many other situations in the world today it reveals how children become pawns in the concerns of adults, and children suffer, they are traumatized, they lose their childhood, perhaps even lose themselves.