I always think a question of why I watch war movies. It’s the same as why I play video games, why I watch basketball, or why I exist in this place. A bit of jarring actually but when I remember most anti-war films I have watched, there is something I’ll never forget. Okay, I watch anti-war films because I like it. I like how this film offers its subtle message, side effects, and others. One thing I like about anti-war is psychology. Most anti-war films never slip the psychology of the protagonist or the soldier. But, I forgot one thing.
One thing I really remember when talking about the beauty of anti-war is its memorable moments, memorable frames, and beautiful cinematography. For instance, I remember how brutal, broken, and cool at the same time Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”. Actually, I forgot a bit when talking about its subtle message and anti-war part. Except, the ending still stuck in my head. It’s the same with Elem Klimov’s “Come and See“. It captures the beauty of war with so many disturbing scenes you really even hard to remember and see it again. Most importantly, I remember this film as one of the most disturbing anti-war movies.
I also remember Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter“. I remember the film because of the Russian Roulette scene, one of the best scenes in filmmaking history, especially in a war film. Yet, I always remember this film is a character study and experimental about the Vietnam War. So, what’s really wrong here? Do we watch anti-war films because we don’t like war, we don’t strongly support the war or other reasons? Some critics say there is no such thing as an anti-war film. Some say also anti-war is very difficult to direct naturally.
I began to wonder after watching Cary Joji Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation”, a war film from an adaptation of a novel written by Uzodinma Iweala. The film features a pure anti-war, similar to “Come and See” where both use child soldier as its target. However, there isn’t the slightest glorification of the beauty of war or violence. There is no proud of who is the hero, an explosion here and there, and adoration of a weapon.
It’s set in a West African, while the movie was filming in Ghana. A boy named Agu (Abraham Attah, one of the terrifying performances ever) lived a simple yet happy life with his family. He was happy to spend his childhood with his friends while occasionally doing ignorance. He and his friends always disassemble a television frame owned by his father and then sell it as an imaginary television. Just like this movie where everything is imagination but really, we still watch a war movie.
“Beasts of No Nation” opens its sequence like a coming-of-age movie, about the life of a boy doing his daily life. The first sequence gives antics, warmth, and an innocent of such a protagonist. Even though it’s like that, we know what this movie is, how horror the film is, how brutal this film is. Whether you’re ready or not, you know what is coming. The conflict came when war broke out in the village where he lived. Children and their mothers go to evacuate. On the other hand, adult men stay and join the war in order to defend their land. The lack of transportation makes Agu have to stay with his father and brother.
Agu’s life became even more tragic when he had to witness firsthand his father and brother killed, but he managed to escape. Agu ran aimlessly, lost in the middle of the forest until the NDF found himself. NDF is a military force but not from a certain party. This force also had many child soldiers like Agu, carrying rifles and machetes. Idris Elba, as one of the terrifying performance as well, led this army. He considered these troops as his family while the other children called him Commandant.
“Beasts of No Nation” has something in common with Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” where the protagonist wonders about their situation through voice-over. Agu, at first, is just a little young boy, religious, but also very happy and innocent. At the end of the movie, he totally changes, no longer an innocent young boy but he sees a lot of bad things. This film illustrates how a war situation can shatter the lives of a kid. He must undergo rigorous training, kill his first prey, until learning to smoke marijuana.
Agu has a friend, first joined the NDF, namely Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye). This is the best part of this movie because their relationship explores how they both don’t want to fight. In fact, they are just a kid, still innocent, just they are encouraged. He seems like at first a psychopath kid but his closeness to Agu makes us aware of the human spirit from both of them. They just want fun, laughter, and games. Not war.
This is a raw movie on all sides, far from the impression of war as well, although this is a war movie, it’s not. It’s just too real, so terrifying, and horror at the same time. I almost vomited several times in several scenes but also not infrequently, I tried to drag in certain scenes. This movie is stylish, not a war film with an engineering cinema. It’s like watching original execution footage. I also never know all the people in this film aren’t actors. This movie is natural, a hard movie to watch, but it’s also not for everyone.
“Beast of No Nation” is not an easy movie to watch, instead, this is a horror movie about character studies, an experience far from being enjoyable. This is a hopeless cinema, a force of real picture against the hard side of life. How our situation is so narrow about bad things, about the leader who can’t be separated from a criminal and non-sense, and about a cold-blooded pumped up to kick.
4 out of 5 stars.