As a voracious reader, if a book is made into a film, chances are I've read it. Strangely, before seeing The Kite Runner I had not read the best selling novel by Khaled Hosseini. I don't quite know why, whether it was the serious subject matter or just timing, I never got to it. After seeing director Marc Forster's (Finding Neverland) sad but stunning adaptation, the novel now has a prominent place in my stack of bedside reading.
The story begins with young boys flying kites in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1978. Life is fairly peaceful; this is before the Russian invasion, the Taliban, and the war that would turn the country toward anarchy. The Kite Runner focuses on the friendship between a young boy named Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), son of the family's servant, Ali (Nabi Tanha). The two boys are virtually inseparable and act like brothers. Though Hassan is the smaller of the two boys, he goes out of his way to protect Amir whenever he has to. Hassan regularly protects Amir from a town bully, Assef (Elham Ehsas), who is jealous of Amir's kite and Hassan's skills as a kite runner. He is able to predict when a kite will return to earth and be there, ready to retrieve it. Hassan is also an easy target for derision because of his status as the son of a servant.
Amir's father Baba is a well-to-do Afghani who has no use for the mullahs. He is an intellectual and a secularist who drives a Mustang and spends his time taking the boys to American movies. While Baba's best friend Rahim Khan (Shaun Toub) wholeheartedly supports Amir's love of literature and writing, Baba remains deeply concerned about his son's inability to fend for himself. Even though Hassan may be hindering his son's emotional growth Baba continues to provide for the boy and his father as though they were his own family.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Amir becomes a kite fighting champion along with Hassan. Once the competition is decided, Hassan uses his kite running skills to track down the kite the two defeated to win the championship. When he recovers the kite, the bully Assef reappears and changes the boys' lives forever. When Hassan refuses to surrender the kite to the bully, Assef and his gang track down Hassan, and brutally rape him. Though Amir arrives in time to see the attack taking place, he does nothing to stop it. From then on, Amir is no longer able to face his friend. Whether from guilt or shame, both boys can no longer communicate with each other. Eventually, Amir plants evidence to make Hassan seem like a thief. Hassan, despite his innocence, confesses. Though Baba forgives him, Ali insists they must leave Baba's employment immediately, despite forty years of loyal service.
The film opens with the modern day Amir in Los Angeles (circa 2000), opening a box full of copies of his new novel. He receives a telephone call from his father's friend Rahim Khan: "You should come home. There is a way to be good again." The tagline of The Kite Runner, "there is a way to be good again," is critical to the entire story; what follows after the phone call is a chain of events that leads to Amir trying to heal the wounds of the past.
It's hard to call The Kite Runner, with its message of atonement, an enjoyable film. It tackles some very tough issues on a very personal level. I found it difficult to excuse Amir's betrayal of Hassan so many years earlier. Given the current state of Afghanistan, The Kite Runner provides an education to the unfamiliar about the country before the Russian invasion and the rise of the Taliban. The film stands as a reminder of the beauty of the now war-torn nation.