If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
The Good Lie tells the story of a group of Sudanese children who escape the calamity of civil war in The Sudan during the 1980s, in hopes of finding refuge and a better life.Thirteen years later, their struggle to adapt and the demons of their pasts threaten their future. The Good Lie is one of those films...you know the ones I’m talking about. They make you smile, they make you laugh, they make you cry. It’s a beautiful film revealing the very nature of resiliency, strength, and the will to carry on. It is true that the western world tends to glaze over when any conversation turns to Africa. We’ve heard everything, and maybe we’ve even used the same excuses but the heart of this film is hope.I have to commend the filmmakers for keeping such a tumultuous conflict and humanitarian crisis from becoming hopeless. We are certainly shown death, fear, and savage executions, but the tone of the film never loses its grit to persevere. Through the children’s journey, from witnessing the death of their loved ones, to injury and illness amongst themselves, and even driving them to the point of drinking their own urine, these young people are forced to exist in a space well beyond their years of experience.
That being said, all the actors were phenomenal, not to mention, 100% authentic. The Good Lie's main leads are all Sudanese refugees or even child soldiers who sought asylum. Yeah. Let that sink in. Not only did they live through a real civil war, but they came back and acted it out to tell the world a story it deserved to hear. Showing us the children’s struggle and terror proved to be an effective cinematic tool. As a viewer, we actually get a better sense of what their world looks like because we’re seeing it and not reading it or hearing the story told. Watching the faces of the children as one atrocity leads to the next explains the brutality of war: there is no time for mourning. If you want to survive, you must keep moving. Studying the children, you can really notice the years they’ve aged in their eyes, contrasting with the physical age of their smooth, ebony skin.
Fast forwarding thirteen years, an opportunity to leave comes to fruition for three of the boys and their sister, Mamere, Paul, Jeremiah, and Abital (Arnold Oceng, Emmanuel Jal, Ger Duany, and Kuoth Wiel). A separation occurs, and the three young men are sent to Kansas City, Missouri to begin new lives, whilst their sister is sent to Boston. Everything is new, and possibilities seem great at the start. Reese Witherspoon’s character, Carrie Davis, is sent in as an employment agency counsellor to assist them with finding gainful employment. Paul, as resident handyman, finds work on an assembly line, whilst Jeremiah and Mamere work at the local supermarket.
As the boys acclimate to electricity, telephones, and running water, they also begin to see the disparity between their native culture and that of America’s. We are invited to see the pure joy of indoor plumbing from Paul’s point of view, as well as the absolute bewilderment of throwing away expired (but still edible) food from Jeremiah’s. The food disposal scene served as a bit of reverse culture shock, reminding me how lucky I am to live in place where good food is thrown away to prevent the chance of illness, when in a country like Sudan, that same food could mean the difference between starvation and survival. Think about that the next time you feel the need to gripe about your lettuce’s expiration date. I know I will.
I had few issues with the film and those that I did centred on Abital’s immigration, the religious majority of Sudan, and Reese Witherspoon’s performance. Without going into too much detail, when Abital is sent away from her brothers to Boston, it is very trying for all four, as they’ve never been apart and are each other’s only family. Time and again, the brothers and Carrie are told there’s next to no chance of getting Abital to Kansas City. Without spoiling this plotline, when this situation resolves, there is little explanation and we immediately move onto another plotline. This does allow the film to explore another point of view more thoroughly but it still felt a little disjointed.
Highly recommended if you’re looking for entertainment, a challenging topic and a healthy dose of resiliency.
The second issue I mentioned is that of religion. Throughout the film, Jeremiah carries a Bible with him. All of the refugees are Christians. There is constant prayer and appeal to the Almighty, as well as gratitude and faith. Just a quick fact check. Sudan is primarily comprised of Sunni Muslims and has been for some time. This isn’t to neglect the fact that there are a few Christians in Sudan. But the choice to make the main characters Sudanese Christians instead of Muslims could have been a purposeful choice to make the audience more sympathetic. Meaning what? That if they were practicing Muslims, the audience would have cared just a little less about their plight? It isn’t always difficult to see where Hollywood put its “two cents” in. However, I will say this: the Bible (or as I see it, any holy book would have done) serves as a tangible representation of faith and commitment. The book begins new, untarnished, and by the end, it’s filthy and worn. But it survives. I do appreciate that visual translation of symbolism and find it comforting and powerful.
Lastly, I didn’t feel this was Reese Witherspoon’s strongest performance. Clint Eastwood has a saying about acting, essentially that if you’re an actor, you should never be caught acting. This stated simply means that as an actor, you should seek to actually be your character. Don’t fake it. Experience that person’s essence, and the rest will come naturally. There were a few too many times when I questioned Carrie’s essence and instead, saw an actor in the character’s place. The one redeeming quality this had on the film was its ability to show off the talent of the other actors and the story itself without Reese’s star power overwhelming the film. I like her approach in that sense.
Another great lesson the film offered up was its potential as a meditation on snap judgments. Let’s face it, we are all guilty of making quick judgments of other people. I’ll be the first to raise my hand. Part of that is just our nature, or even our body’s response to threat. Whilst Jeremiah and Mamere tend to wear their emotions a little closer to their skin, Paul’s emotional turmoil becomes obvious through his behaviour. What I’m about to propose is certainly no call to action, but rather a call to awareness. We tend to judge without context. Viewing Paul in certain situations, I would be extremely annoyed with his “thoughtless” behaviour. Smoking dope at work? What the hell. Walking in front of a moving car? Idiot. But because we knew his circumstances, his mind and the weighty conflict his heart bore, we see those actions differently in this film. We see someone so blinded by struggle that he ceases to care what reaction his actions cause.
Let me put this to you. What if, in our daily lives, we looked at people with the understanding that maybe, just maybe, they’re going through something similar to Paul? Maybe they’re just doing whatever they can to get by. It’s not a perfect world, but we can always make an effort to walk in someone else’s shoes, if only for a moment. The film ends with a soulful song brimming with belief in a brighter tomorrow (that's an awful lot of alliteration, I know). You should probably have a listen (‘Find a Way’ by Nico and Vinz featuring Emmanuel Jal aka ‘Paul’ in the film). The song barely requires any labouring to understand the message. The violence aside, The Good Lie is an inspiring film chock full of lessons. I don’t think I could sum the film up better than their ending title which is based on an old African proverb and is at the top of this review.
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