Beasts of No Nation: The Harrowing Tale of a Child Soldier
“Beasts of No Nation”, Make no mistake, is a story of such inhumane magnitude that it slowly becomes a horror set in reality as the movie progresses. In its first few scenes, the gruesome tale paints an idyllic illusion of an African village where boys spend all day engaging in mischief because as Agu (Abraham Attah) says “we are having no school.” It is these first minutes that give the viewer the illusion of safety. You are swiftly captivated by Agu’s narration and his mischief which includes selling “imagination TV” that when the illusion of safety shatters, the movie succeeds in keeping the viewer in a state of panic, much like Agu!
The movie adapted from Uzodima Iweala’s novel is directed by Cary Fukunaga (True Detective), gifted at creating visually appealing films with understated dramatic effect. Unlike most war movies, “Beasts of No Nation”, never specifically tells the viewer where the war is taking place, an ambiguity that allows us to watch the events unfolding on screen as an examination of the psychological, emotional and spiritual damage that children of war go through. With the introduction of the character only known as commandant (Idris Elba), the film succeeds in bringing in the aspect of loyalty. Loyalty manufactured by a charismatic monster swearing to protect the young men and children, who have just recently lost everything, by giving them something to stand for. “All of you that have never been listened to before and have seen your family killed, huh, you now have something that stands for you. You now have something that stands for you!” It is those few words that make loyal soldiers out of Agu and the other children.
The truly horrific aspect of “Beasts of no Nation” comes much later when the commandant succeeds in molding Agu into a cold-hearted soldier. The first strike of the machete on the man’s head signals the end of innocence for Agu and brings full circle the commandant’s words, “A boy is a dangerous thing.” It is at this point that the first 30minutes of the movie drive home the magnitude of loss. It is only by remembering what Agu and all the other children have lost that you can truly appreciate man’s inhumanity in the time of war.
Utilizing the outstanding performances of Elba and Attah, “Beasts of No Nation” is a horrific tale of one child’s struggle to survive under the tutelage of a war criminal.