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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Beasts of No Nation is a brutal, uncompromising look at the life of a young guerilla fighter in an unnamed African country. Based on the book by Uzodinma Iweala, the story is told from young Agu's point of view as he narrates the horrifying events that shatter his life. After the violent deaths of his father, grandfather, and older brother, Agu is saved and recruited by the commandant of an army of boy soldiers, rebels whose way of life has become kill or be killed. Scenes of extreme violence are almost continuous; people are killed by all manner of weaponry (gunfire, grenades, a machete, stomping, firing squad). Though the filmmakers have taken care to keep much of the brutality either off camera or in brief shots, the implications and the savagery of the events are clear, including Agu's victimization at the hands of a sexual predator. Women are demeaned, used sexually, and, in one instance, raped by a gang of young warriors. Language is harsh; "f--k" is used dozens of times. Many characters, including the boys, use both marijuana and hard drugs several times. An important story created with great skill and passion, this film is still far too intense for kids.
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- Kids say
Agu’s first kill was pretty graphic (Machete to the head) you could see the victims brains flo... Continue reading
What's the story?
Set in the current day in an unnamed African country, BEASTS OF NO NATION tells the story of Agu (Abraham Attah), a bright, mischievous young boy who watches his loving family and his peaceful village destroyed by warring factions in his country's civil war. Alone and desperate in the bush after having run for his life, Agu is discovered by a band of rebel boys, covered in camouflage and carrying rifles. Like Agu, the boys have been orphaned and lost. They're held together by a charismatic leader, "Commandant" (Idris Elba), who has turned them into a "battalion" of young warriors using guerilla warfare to fight against the current government. Agu is recruited, trained, and taught that everyone he'll face in battle is responsible for his father's death. The boy finds himself in a chaotic world of war, where victims become predators, there are no clear-cut sides, and the frightened, isolated gang is indoctrinated, manipulated, and abused by the man who's both their savior and the enemy of their souls. Agu's narration guides the audience through this tragic journey.
Is it any good?
A terrifying story, powerful images, and exceptional performances add up to a compelling but sometimes hard-to-watch movie about the loss of innocence and horrors of war. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who acted as cinematographer and wrote the screenplay based on Uzodinma Iweala's novel, has created an unforgettable film that, though labeled "fiction," is a stunning recreation of events that have been well-documented as factual in the recent past.
It's a challenging two-plus hours, mostly because the leading performances are so gripping and so real that it's hard to look away even when horrifically brutal scenes are on the screen. Attah will break your heart; Elba brings nuance to a role that could have been simply the essence of evil. Beasts of No Nation has found a certain fame as the first feature film to stream on Netflix at the time of its theatrical release, but no matter the platform, it's absolutely not for kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the "fictional" war portrayed in Beasts of No Nation. From what you know, do you believe such events actually have happened or are happening now? What messages do you think the movie is hoping to convey?
Think about and discuss the extreme violence in a film such as this one. Did the atrocities help make sense of Agu's state of mind and his behavior? Would the film and its messages have been as powerful without it? What is the impact of media violence on kids?
In what we call the "normal world," Agu's actions would be unforgivable. Do the circumstances of his desperation justify what he does? What realistic options, if any, does he have? How do you feel about him at the end of the movie?
In what ways did this movie change your ideas and attitudes about events in developing nations? Do you believe it's important to be aware of and pay attention to international struggles? Why?
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