My God, that was a depressing movie.

Don’t get me wrong: the Taliban is utterly fucking depressing (and fascinating. What made the movie are the ways people get around laws enforced by Draconian regimes. I’ve looked a lot into how Iranians have gotten around these sorts of laws, and it’s a good illustration of why a Draconian society eventually breaks down, but I digress). But my God, could we get just one good thing happening for this kid?

I kept expecting her to stand up for herself. Her mother and grandmother basically force her to dress like a boy so she can go out of the house to work. The three of them are starving, her mother’s always trying to get a man to escort her (since her husband is dead and she can’t go outside without a male relative). But the kid never gets a break. Not once. And she’s been so cowed by the system that her disguise… well, let’s just say that this girl-dressing-up-as-boy story doesn’t end as happily as Alanna’s.

What’s rough about these sorts of drag-you-down-and-out-constant-badness movies is that they always end up feeling unbalanced. There’s some scenes of her jump roping where she appears to be having fun, but basically, all joy, happiness, love, and laughter is totally absent from this movie. I realize some of the lament may be cultural (“if we talk about good things, we’ll jinx ourselves, so we must lament our fate”), and a good deal of it is just true… but this really needed a “life can be enjoyable” scene. Just one. Otherwise, life is not worth living, and these women should have all killed themselves by now (and, granted, many women in Afghanistan do and have, but: many don’t. Why? It’s not just for religious reasons. Even the worst life must have a moment – even fleeting – of joy).

At the same time, the film did what it set out to do, which is allow you to feel a fraction of what it’s like to grow up a girl in Afghanistan under the Taliban. This whole time she’s running around, I had this sinking feeling in my gut, this low-level terror of getting caught… and what would be done to her when she got caught. Which… inevitably, she is. This isn’t a happy ending American movie. Not by a long shot.

I was horrifically sad for the heroine, as well. I wanted so badly to see her stand up for herself, to take an active role, to be an Alanna, basically. But this wasn’t about an exception. This was about someone who’d grown up beaten and cowed by a system of oppression. And this is the most likely way things would turn out.

And that sure doesn’t make me feel any better about it.

A good film, but don’t expect to walk away feeling positive about the current state of the world or how long we have to go.

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