A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie shows kids and young people living on the streets and in poverty in South Africa, with scenes showing harsh violence (stabbing, shooting, beating), drinking and drug use, the accidental kidnapping of a baby during a carjacking, posters warning against AIDS, and the parents' subsequent distress. The focus is on a young hoodlum, whose initial inability to cope with the infant's needs leads to terrible mistakes (the baby is covered with ants and filth, cries, needs food). He holds a gun on a young woman to force her to breastfeed the baby; he beats one friend and regrets it; he kills another in order to stop more violence.
What's the story?
Set in Soweto, South Africa, this Oscar-winner centers on 19-year-old Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) who deals drugs, steals, and scavenges to get by. After he and his crew commit a robbery and murder, Tsotsi gets into a brutal fight with one of his friends, then runs off and carjacks a BMW only to discover an infant in the back seat. Abruptly, Tsotsi has new options. He decides to keep the baby, leave the car, and head home. He cares for the infant, but leaves it in a bag under his bed while he goes out cruising for new trouble. When he returns to find the filthy baby covered in ants, Tsotsi sees himself in the infant, underlined by flashbacks to his tragic childhood. Tsotsi forces a new mother to breastfeed his new charge, then tries to give the baby away to homeless children on the outskirts of town, where he used to live. As he holds out the baby in a bag, this next scrawny generation stares at Tsotsi as if he's crazy. They can't imagine caring for anyone else, just as he can't. At last, he does figure out a decent way to cope; he finds himself, after an impossibly hard life.
Is it any good?
Last year's Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, TSOTSI is a brutal, affecting film about a young man's turn from violence to almost incomprehensible generosity. Gavin Hood's film takes place in a harsh, amorphous now -- the presence of AIDS marks a change from the film's source, Athol Fugard's novel, which was set in the 1950s (published in 1980). This shift underlines the persistence of risks in the South African townships: the particular danger may shift, but hopelessness and fury go on.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Tsotsi's transformation, from tough-fronting street gangster to vulnerable, generous young man. How does the movie show how he became so callous, with flashbacks to his mother's illness and death, his father's abuse, and Tsotsi's subsequent lack of a home and stability? How do you come to understand the reasons for his cruelty, even as you hope he changes his attitude? How does the baby's helplessness affect Tsotsi's necessary focus on his own survival, before all else? How does the young mother help him to change his mind-set?
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