The Kite Runner. A book and movie analysis

book:  ”The Kite Runner”, Khaled Hosseini, 2003

movie: “The Kite Runner”, Marc Forster, 2007

  In this case, the movie is very similar to the book, leaving out only minor details, so this will be more of an analysis of the story itself, of how the author portrayed certain ideas, and how the director gave them life in movie form. Enjoy!

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Story

The story begins in San Francisco, with a phone call from Afghanistan who tells adult Amir he has to come back to his homeland, because “There is a way of being good again”. The story then jumps back a few decades back, in 1970’s Afghanistan, where two boys, Amir and Hassan are flying kites together, and shoot pebbles at animals with a slingshot. Amir is the son of a wealthy businessman, nicknamed Baba. Hassan, on the other hand, is the son of Ali, a devoted servant of the family and also a good friend of Baba, with whom he grew up.

Themes

The main themes of the story are friendship, parent – child relationship, prejudice, betrayal, guilt, religion and ethnicity.

Hassan is exceptionally good at flying kites, and he is constantly praised by Baba, to Amir’s bitter disappointment and envy. The boy feels blamed by his father, Baba, for killing his mother while she was giving birth to him. When he overhears Baba telling Rahim Khan, his best friend, that his son is not daring and confident enough, Amir is convinced that his father doesn’t love him and that he has to earn his love by winning the kite flying contest and prove he is as good as Hassan.

The conflict that sparks the plot twist is due to the different ethnicity of the two boys: Amir is a Pashtun, but Hassan is a Hazara. After a series of uprisings by the Hazaras in the nineteenth century, and ongoing tensions in the twentieth century, Hazaras were looked upon with disgrace by some Pashtuns, who compared them to dogs, slaves and parasites that pollute Afghanistan. Theprejudice is present in the story: Assef, a young boy who is always looking for trouble, confronts Amir and Hassan. The conflict intensifies and a disturbing event centering Assef changes the friendship between Amir and Hassan. But the guilt follows Amir all his life, and after receiving the phone call from his father’s best friend, Amir Khan, he knows he has to go back to Afghanistan and make things right.

Guilt returns to adult Amir in another form: the guilt of living an easy life in California, while his brothers and sisters are suffering in his homeland. But so many years have gone since he left Afghanistan, that upon his return, he feels like “a tourist in his own country”.

What made this story more captivating for me was the historical aspect. You can clearly paint a picture about Afghanistan in the 70’s, Afghanistan during the Soviet military intervention (which determines Amir and Baba to fled the country, due to Baba’s well-known anti-communist beliefs) and later on, the Taliban coming to power. The movie does it justice and captures the atmosphere pretty well, in my opinion.

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Book vs movie

For me, the movie felt too cold, failing at delivering characters that I could empathize with. Maybe for someone who didn’t read the book beforehand, the characters are believable, but for me, the characters in the book are outlined in a complex manner. The most disappointing aspect was the actor chosen to play Baba, whom I imagined to be a little bit older and with a wiser look. In the movie, I think he begins to resemble book-Baba only towards the end, but I still feel like he was too little explored in the film. His motives are clearly brought to surface toward the end of the book, explaining most of his decisions from when he was younger. The movie only mentions them, leaving the father – son relationship as a secondary theme, not enough explored.

The movie follows religiously the main points of action in the book, and also the structure. I don’t know if this was the best option, but I would have loved to see a more distinct approach from the director, or screenwriter.

Altogether, I enjoyed the story, but there were some aspects that I found to be cliche, such as the leitmotif of the phrase “For you, a thousand times over”.

No secret, it is a perfect book and a perfect movie for people who like romantic (not in an amorous type of way, but rather melancholic) stories. It does make you tear up, and it certainly has a feel-good ending, which, after thinking more about it, feels like a deus ex machina solution. I think it depends on the reader/viewer and his preference to judge the ending.

Real life implications

Khaled Hosseini, the writer, is himself an Afghan born novelist, originally a physician. After “The Kite Runner” became famous, he decided to give up his medical career and become a full-time writer, saying that “Medicine was an arranged marriage, writing is my mistress”. All his books are set, even if only partly, in Afghanistan and feature an Afghan as the protagonist. “The Kite Runner” was strongly inspired by his childhood memories, but the author refused to explain exactly which aspects from the book are true and which are pure fiction.

Marc Forster is a German filmmaker, known for “Finding Neverland”, “Quantum of Solace” and “World War Z”. He doesn’t look for stories that he can turn into movies that clearly reflect his view, but rather molds his directing to match the story, hence his movies are so different from one another. When it comes to “The Kite Runner”, when asked in an interview about the most violent scenes in the story being restrained in the movie, he said “There were different motivations in terms of the way violence is handled in the film. […] It was the first time I read a story that dealt with that part of the world that was about forgiveness, healing, and atonement and not about violence and terrorism. Often in the West when we hear the word Afghanistan, we think about bin Laden and the Taliban we don’t think about the people who live there. It was the first time I read a story from there, which starts out with the people and not violence and terror. It was important to me to keep the violence restrained, because it’s only a part of the story. Those scenes are story points that move the film forward, but they’re not the main focus. That’s not what the movie is about; it’s about something else.”

Some measures had to be taken in order to protect the child actors from being bullied(such as filming in China), but death threats appeared nonetheless. You can read more about the controversies and incidents here and here.

Conclusions

I give the book 4 out of 5 stars and the movie 2 and a half out of five stars.

Quotes:

“Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them in with your favorite colors” -Rahim Khan

“There is a way of being good again” – Rahim Khan

“For you, a thousand times over” – Hassan, and later grown-up Amir

“He knew I had betrayed him and yet he was rescuing me once again, maybe for the last time. I loved him in that moment, loved him more than I’d ever loved anyone, and I wants to tell them all that I was the snake in the grass, the monster in the lake. I wasn’t worthy of this sacrifice; I was a liar, a cheat, and a thief.” – Amir, as a child

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