This movie has performed a miracle. We are watching a small slice and rare retelling of the history of American involvement in Cambodia. We witness US abandonment of the country, the rise of the Khmer Rouge and its revolution which resulted in, the murder and enslavement of the Cambodian people by a political cult. What makes this film stunning beyond The Killing Fields, or Swimming to Cambodia, is that we experience it all through the eyes of a seven year old girl.
There are no politics more incisive than the judgement of children, upon the adults who run and ruin the world. Witness photos of hungry children reaching out with begging bowls, the late night admonishments of charity for children in need, meant to move us from the comfort of our sofa instead of flipping channels and doing the only foraging we know, from the fridge resplendent. All the faces of these very real children are made personal by this film, and you can’t look away.
The child who is watching us in the film, could be ourselves. She’s dancing to western music, playing games with her brothers and sisters. No distance separates us from her fall, as up close we see her degradation by political fanatics. She goes from being a “privileged” middle class child in the city, to becoming a refugee peasant in her own country, a child slave and child warrior.
She doesn’t even understand the mines she buries at the command of her military superiors until she sees others blown up, and then must walk through the field she has mined, herself. Because the camera does not flinch from the child’s judging eyes, it makes our hearts go out to her, finally cleansed of all denial, and ready to engage with our own collusion in the wounds of the world.
See this film for many reasons, to understand our history, as a country involved with the people of Cambodia. See it to remember being a child and judging with wise eyes, the follies, failures and unforgivable acts of the adults who control children’s lives. See it to understand the beauty and simplicity of the Father, who as his family falls into poverty, simply says to his disapproving daughter, “Yes, now we are poor too.” See it, to witness the courage of the Mother, who only through forcing separation from herself, ensures the survival of her kids.
It is the tiny scenes of intimacy, tenderness, and touching, the vast silence above the heaven’s eye shots of human migrations and escape, the dream sequences of dancing demons and mythic shadow play foreshadowing village carnage, which in the end all come home to roost in our hearts.
Angelina Jolie has always been a very interesting and responsible Director. With this film she has gone on to be a much greater one, and she can go even further. Of course the ending reuniting the children resolves the story. Yet, there is a cord of music which is the dissonance of war and the reconciliation beyond peace, that if played simultaneously, resounds in the human soul forever. Play there. We will go there with you. You have something valuable and deep to say, and you have the forum for it. Go beyond where you are already standing up for humanity. We are waiting to see it, with our child’s eyes.