Beasts of No Nation, a 2015 war drama film follows a young child soldier for the rebel group after witnessing his father and brother being murdered by the armed forces of their own country who wanted to drive them out of their own lands.
Watch the trailer of Beasts of No Nation here :
Agu, played by Abraham Attah, is a young, mischievous but a happy go lucky boy, who makes the best out of every situation. However, despite living in a “buffer zone”, they soon face the repercussions of losing their land, loved ones as well as a part of their identity. In the middle of the country’s horrific civil war, it shows the peaceful life of the civilians despite the hardships, providing refuge to those who are in need and doing odd jobs all day to make enough for survival. In a family full of love, and amongst friends who indulge him in the same sunny and mischievous ways like him. Agu, a child in the world of men, is harassed and abused by both sides of the war and forced to side with the one looking less deadly. Loud and dark in both color and tone, the film leaves an imprint in the minds of the viewers, putting forth its blunt honesty.
Beasts of No Nation | Film Info
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Producer: Amy Kaufman, Cary Joji Fukunaga
Cast: Idris Elba, Kurt Egyiawan, Jude Akuwudike, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye, Abraham Attah
Release Date: October 16, 2015 (worldwide)
Revenue: 90.77 million USD worldwide
Beasts of No Nation | Summary and Analysis
The introductory scene of this film is of immense significance. We see a bunch of kids running around in a lush green field, with children playing football as the camera pans out to a shell of a television set and two boys are seen, speculating on the techniques and skills of the players to recruit them in their teams. Agu and a bunch of kids try to sell that television shell to a pawn shop who chides them for trying to scan him with the “imagination television” but the children put on a great show, matching every tune and beat of the music. They proceed to try and sell it to the soldiers of the armed forces who are known to buy anything and everything remotely interesting. A light-hearted vibe of the film is set in as the kids rejoice in getting some food from them in exchange, which is quite ironic to a war drama film that generally revolves around the aftershocks and nightmares as consequences of an ongoing war with the state itself. The title itself denotes how everyone in the state belongs to ‘no nation’ and there are only two kinds of beings living there; one, people waiting for their death, and other beasts who fight for the protection of their land and people. “Beasts with No Nation” revolves around the story of the child soldier, Agu and his journey, however, it is also about the acknowledgment of the inner beast due to the circumstances that make him take certain decisions which he knows he will forever regret.
However, the scene soon turns dark as their village is also on the brink of being seized by the state army, who ask them to leave their land, lest they would want to be labeled as rebels and thus, be executed on sight. Agu’s father decides to send his wife and children to the capital city, to ensure their safety while he would stay back with his eldest son to defend their land. Due to circumstances, he is forced to keep behind Agu and only sends his wife and two children with her. The weight of the line, “our country is at war” is felt for the first time upon seeing the chaos at the scene when there is a shortage of cars to drive the women and children out of the potential war zone. Agu feels distraught at being separated from his mother, something which he suppresses in the deepest corner of his heart and is let out later in the film. He compares the situation of his village to the pitter-patter of the rain, comparing it to the never-ending cycle of change, always there, ever and ever.
Upon the attacks from National Reformation Council, the family tries to hide but is discovered and soon killed when no one can testify for them. Agu’s father tries to make a way for Agu to escape. His father’s and brother’s deaths leave an impression on the young boy, who in his agony and fear of death, runs deeper into the woods, unknown of the danger that might fall on him. Upon being caught in a guerrilla skirmish, and undergoes a difficult initiation process. The commandant provokes him into joining the rising rebel group, Native Defence Forces. Upon being a certified soldier in NDF by killing one of the enemy soldiers to prove his loyalty, he then befriends another one of the child soldiers, Strika, a kid near his age who never speaks. With him, he finds a little solace and peace in a world full of violence where blood and lust flow like water. On one such night of victory over the enemy troops, the commandant calls Agu into his room and rapes him. He is at first. confused at what had happened, clueless if he could share this “secret” with anyone despite him promising the commandant that he would not. Strika, however, recognizes that look and comforts the boy. Soon enough, Agu realizes that most of the kids in the battalion were sexually abused by the commandant more or less, and they all have tried to cope with it in one way or another. Looking for a way to cope with the trauma, he is given cocaine or “brown-brown” which makes him feel better. Cocaine-fuelled children then rampage toward villages to take them under their control before the armed forces take over. The brutality shown by Agu is gut-wrenching, as he stomps through houses, killing anyone in sight. He also mistakes another woman to be his mother and when he realizes it, he calls her a witch woman. As the commanding officer rapes her, others kill the child by stomping on her repeatedly. Enraged because of his moments of weakness, Agu shoots the woman in the head as she is in bed, angering the CO. However, at this point, he is considered to be the child soldier under the commandant so nobody dares to say anything about it or complain about it.
The victory in the battalion leads to them being called over at the headquarters by the supreme commander, Dada Goodblood, who is more concerned about the political image of the war and wishes to have the current Two I. C. and demote the current commandant, which eventually enrages him. However, he does take his men out to “celebrate” at a brothel, where accidentally, the Two I. C. gets shot and blames the commandment for it, who vehemently denies it. Using this opportunity, the commandant instigates his battalion against the NDA and gets independent control over it. However, the shortage of food and supplies leads to many, including Strika, dying of airstrikes or hunger. All in all, the happiness and peace of these characters are short-lived throughout the movie, and the emotional ambiguity is maintained throughout the film after the family is separated.
Director Fukunaga has delivered his best to show the narrative divergences. We are introduced to Agu and his family in a non-clichéd manner that is known in war drama movies. We see Agu’s father, a local school teacher who is now involved in the temporary rehabilitation of the refugees and is now loved more by Agu who does not have to see more of his strict teacher side. His muscle-head brother is only interested in dancing and women, even fancies one of them and does not leave any moment to impress her. Agu’s relationship with him is like any other relationship, they both cheer each other up when they’re sad, play pranks on each other, etc. His lovely doting mother who sings sweeter than honey, mute grandfather, and baby siblings, all are loved and doted upon by everyone. It is a normal family, who scolds each other when they are wrong, tries to belch the loudest at the dinner table, and shares laughs and secrets over meals; the transition from this kind of scene to the war-stricken zone in the village is slow and no eventful, instilling the audience with the fear of upcoming horror and violence. To imagine Agu will go on to kill people mercilessly is not something the audience has in mind, but it all changes when we see him killing the said engineering student who begs for his life to be saved.
The camera angles at a lower level, focusing on Agu and his slashes, as blood splatters on from his slashes and not Strika’s. This sight of Agu’s blank yet hesitant face while looking at the man’s pleading face is a sign of contemplation of the question of whether killing this man would really make up for the deaths of his father and brother. The splashes of blood on the camera lens from Agu’s slashes fill the audience with horror as they realize this is the unleashing of the beast they talked about in the title of the film. The director very beautifully also introduces how two entirely different characteristics can co-exist in someone. Agu, in this story, is both a hero and a monster, a child and a killer.
Towards the end of the movie, after leaving the NDF, as the troop runs out of supplies and ammunition, the soldiers are filled with frustration and paranoia, deciding to leave the commandant, to live on their own. However, they are soon captured by UN troops, who try to rehabilitate them in a village nearby. An unspecified period of time later, the child soldiers are sent to a missionary school, for them to unlearn and relearn the ways of life. Many of them suffer from drug withdrawal and PTSD. The preacher and one of the other child soldiers decide to join the rebellion again, and thus, run away from the school. Agu himself has trouble going back to doing “child things” since he has seen too much bloodshed at a young age and is continuously tormented by what has happened throughout the time period. It is his conscience that torments him the most. His inability to retell the stories of his past because of his fear to be termed as a beast by someone else, despite the acceptance of being the beast is what he does not want to talk about with anyone. Instead, he chooses to talk about his life before all of this, with his family, when he was a good boy and led a happy life in his small village. The final scene is as significant as the opening scene, as Agu joins other kids for a swim in the river, going back to doing “child things” to give closure to the film.
Premiered at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, this movie gained a lot of success worldwide. Made with a budget of less than 6 million USD, it successfully earned more than 90 million worldwide, apart from winning and getting nominated for several awards. Idris Elba and Abraham Attah won the best actor in their own categories at the Film Independent Spirit Awards.