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Beasts of No Nation (2015); And My Existential Thoughts Within It

November 16, 2015


I can’t handle films like Beasts of No Nation. They affects me too much on a physiological level; I cry, it shortens my breath, my heart starts pounding, I get squeamish, then I’m left speechless in a puddle of wrecked sadness wondering what can be done to stop the tragic sufferings experienced by so many people in this plane of existence. In a similar vein as Beasts of No Nation, City of God was the first film I ever remember affecting me on these levels, along with Robert Redford’s directorial debut, Ordinary People. I cried for a good hour after first seeing these films and their stories continue to haunt me years later. Beasts of No Nation painfully took my breath away, leaving me unprepared to move forward with casual thought after confronting the harsh reality that it depicts.

I’m still not ready. If you let it in, and I mean if you truly immerse yourself into the experience, Beasts of No Nation will pain you and change your life. You will spend too much of your time devising theories on how to end the plight of child soldiers. You’ll contemplate the existence of war, greed, and all the ills of mankind that renders living a life of liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness impossible for all humans. Beasts of No Nation makes you look for someone to blame. Someone has to be the bad guy to persecute and easily stop these tragedies, right? Sure, there are always bad guys, but as Beasts of No Nation shows us there are far too many other factors contributing to the misfortunes of war-torn countries and situations.


Beasts of No Nation will send on you this existential crisis through the story of Agu (Abraham Attah). He is a happy child who lives a normal life with his family in Nigeria. He plays jokes with his friends, gets in petty trouble for his childhood antics, fights with his older brother, and laughs around a dinner table with his nurturing mother and teacher father. But, an impending civil war has slowly began to change the land he calls home. Refugees are arriving in droves needed a place to live now that rebels have destroyed their lands and are killing their neighbors. With time and misfortune, the rebels make their way to Agu’s home.

The men of Agu’s village decide to stay and fight for their land and send the women and children off. The city becomes marred by panic and in a cluster of fight and desperation Agu is left behind with the men– a stroke of mere ill-fated destiny. A church going people who celebrates the glory of God and his savior Jesus, Agu’s Nigerian family is no stranger to Christ and realize all they can do is pray. But those prayers don’t save Agu and his family and Agu soon finds himself in the arms of a disillusioned military leader called Commandant (Idris Elba) by a group of child and teenage soldiers. Agu’s choice is to die a painful, shameful death, or live as a solider where he must kill others, walk for miles, have his brain altered with substances, and lose his innocence in the process.


My freshman year of college introduced me to the tragedy of child soldiers through a group called Invisible Children. After one of its members presented their wonderfully produced documentary and a speech on the topic, Invisible Soldiers taught me how children all over war-torn areas of the world are subjected to lives of warfare and the damaging effects that it has on these kids. PTSD for a 12-year-old shouldn’t be a real thing, but it is. These kids reported knowing the smell of death, craving the sight of blood and receiving withdrawal type headaches if they didn’t see blood on any given day, along with many other nefarious acts. I became heavily involved with the organization for a few months, but as time passed I regretfully fell out of it.

Though I moved on, the tragedy of war crimes still took place, something that Beasts of No Nation reminded me. These invisible children were still looking for refuge and safety while those of us in privileged countries showed interest then moved on, much like America’s attention to the events in Darfur at the time as well as our ever growing ADD towards tragedies and political blunders taking place. But what can be done? This is what I asked myself constantly thorough the whole of Beasts of No Nation. Sure, writer and director Cary Joji Fukunaga can make an immaculately shot film that embodies a natural realism and brutality within the story. He can use his impressive, captivating cinematography skills to affect our mood simply through the use of colors and lighting. We can engulf this film into our psyche, but the wars in Africa, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or in Syria are out of the public’s hands to an extent. These are tragedies that are innate within humanity because war is a very human concept that has marred our existence since antiquity. War is so human in its nature that early civilizations even believed their gods to be war-crazed beings. We can raise all the awareness, all the aid, march in all the protests and rallies, but that still won’t take guns out of hands or stop greed and power from corrupting a human mind.


That is why we must evolve. That’s right, I’m going to get real guru-y and existential here because I don’t know what else can be done to stop these ongoing tragedies. Every last one of us on this planet must evolve. We must go beyond our human nature and expand our consciousness for the sake of peace on earth. Living a life of peaceful coexistence with one another doesn’t have to be a pipe dream, it shouldn’t be. It should instead be an eventuality. Greed is what corrupts us. The need to have power, the desire for more is what has always led man to do despicable things. This is the existence we’ve allowed to continue. We as people, as humans within society, keep telling and reaffirming to each other that money matters. That money can get you food, money can get you clothes, money can get you power. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We can tell ourselves money doesn’t matter, it’s all just a physical delusion that we have given clout to. This world already provides us food, we can all have clothes, and we don’t need power when we can have the basic necessities and the help of each other. This is the mindset that must be held in developed countries. Maybe, if the countries in power change their priorities and tactics and leave greed behind, our conscious thoughts will transcend nations and break apart the tragedies happening beyond our control. It won’t end tomorrow, or even five years from now. But, if we start planting the seeds of change today then maybe, just maybe generations down the line can live on this beautiful, lush planet in harmonious existence and not feel the need to dominate and control over others. Maybe we can evolve to place of peace and love and not stay in our stagnant beast mode of war and power where everyone within the gravity of it all suffers. Whether this tactic is foolish or not, it sure as hell beats a world where children lose their identity becoming desensitized to killing those around them because of someone else’s quest for power.

SEE IT now on Netflix. Then, come back and lets have a discourse on how to fix this tragic world we live in.

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