Monday, October 31, 2011

The Kite Runner and VALUES TABLES

Writers: DAVID BENIOFF (SP), and
Khaled Hosseini (N)

AMIR: Khalid Abdalla (adult), Zekeria Ebrahimi (young)
HASSAN: Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada
BABA: Homayoun Ershadi
SORAYA: Atossa Leoni
RAHIM KHAN: Shaun Toub
ASSEF: Abdul Salam Yusoufzai (adult), Elham Ehsas (young)
GENERAL TAHERI: Abdul Qadir Farookh
SOHRAB: Ali Danish Bakhtyari (Hassan's son)
ZAMAN: Mohamad Amin Rahimi (Orphanage Director)


(It was late when I posted this, so please advise of typos.)
Amir, Baba and winning kite.
It's 1978 in Kabul, Afghanistan. A crazy place with humans trying to find dignity in the midst of hell. A puppet Communist government thinks it's in power. But the Islamic Mullah's really control the the people through intimidation. At the same time the Afghan guerrilla Mujahideen movement is born. The Russians invade the next year. When the Afghans defeat Russia in 1989 killing 40,000-50,000 Soviets, with help from U.S. shoulder fired rockets,  there is more fighting.

In 1992 there are elections under a tenuous run Mujahideen Islamic State. More fighting. In 1994 the Taliban with their version of extreme Islamic fundamentalism (believe or die, or die because we don't like you -- tyranny) they make rubble out of Kabul. There is Pakistani and Iranian interference. More fighting. Mass killings by the Taliban, and the Hazaras sect is massacred.

God tries to slow the Taliban down by bringing Earthquakes to the country that kill tens of thousands. But the Taliban tries to out-do God. Osama bin Laden makes plans from within Afghanistan, attacks the U.S. (NY and Washington), setting up the U.S. attack in 2001. This is a very crazy place, and the reason many didn't want the U.S. to get involved, even to stop the Taliban --who  seem to have been infected with the same demons that possessed the Nazis.

With that as a backdrop, KITE RUNNER is the story centers around two boys from different classes. Neither has a mother, both dead.  The rich Amir is from the preferred or ethically superior race of the Pashtuns.  Amir's father is Baba, a rich conflicted merchant who does well to teach Amir virtue. But the one virtue Amir doesn't learn is courage to stand for what is right. Amir is a coward. Baba's loyal business secretary, Rahim Khan, is like a father to Amir and tires to encourage him.

The servant to Baba is Ali, and Ali's son, Hassan, is sort of a servant and friend to Amir. Ali and his son are Hazaras. But Baba treats both boys as his son, although he seems to favor Hassan because, Amir thinks, Hassan stands up for himself and is not a coward. Amir can read and tries to write stories. Hassan likes to listen to Amir's stories. Together they fly kites above Kabul and join in kite fighting competitions. They win a city wide contest, which helps to create envy among some bullies, who are really young Talian. The bullies are led by Assef. Amir's cowardice is exposed when Assef corners Hassan and sodomizes him. Amir sees this but does not help his servant and friend. There is shame all around, and Amir plants his watch (movie), money (book) in Hassan's living quarters and then accuses Hassan of stealing, forcing Ali to leave Baba's long employ with his son, against Baba's desire and forgiveness to stay. The guilt of this injustice eats at Amir and sticks with him all his days -- even after he and Baba escape the Taliban, immigrate to America, where Amir manages to graduate from college, get married, and publish a book. 

It's then, in 2000, after Baba has passed away, that Amir receives a telephone call from Rahim Khan asking him to return to Afghanistan for a special mission concerning Hassan's orphaned son, Hassan and his wife having been murdered by the Taliban. When Amir learns of his own family's history in the story, Amir does what he can to honor the memory of his old friend Hassan. He not only has avoid the Taliban, but an old nemesis in particular who has only gotten more sadistic with age.

In the end, Amir learns courage, and how to stand up for what is right.

Moral Premise

Marc Forster works with the Aamad (L) and Zekeria (R)
This story is complex in terms of its moral premise structure. The Nicomachean Ethics continuum consists of PARANOIA (Absence of Virtue) vs. COURAGE (Pure Virtue) vs. ARROGANCE (Excess of Virtue). (See diagram below).

Under "courage" there are two sub-values that the story considers: FORGIVENESS and JUSTICE.

Breaking down FORGIVENESS (as the pure virtue) you have BITTERNESS (absence of virtue), and TOLERANCE OF EVIL (excess of virtue).

And Breaking down JUSTICE (as the pure virtue) you have CHAOS (absence of virtue) and REPRESSION (excess of virtue).

Simply put this leaves the moral premise statement something like this:

Paranoia and Arrogance lead to chaos and repression;  but
Courage, Forgiveness and Justice lead to order and freedom.

Character Arcs (Inner Journeys)

The following chart, is hopefully self-explanatory -- at least I don't plan on explaining it, much.  But below are some things it reveals:

Copyright © 2011, Stan Williams. You can use. Please let me know where.

  •  Some characters don't change, especially the most pure virtuous Hassan, and the ever evil Taliban.
  • The Nicomachean scale of values (absence of a virtue -- a pure virtue -- an excess of virtue) makes a wonderful conflict of values chart, around which to construct a story. Or perhaps you land there accidentally. It doesn't, but that you get there in the end is important for successful story construction. 
  • A successful movie will layer character motivations so that they're related. Notice that Paranoia, Courage and Arrogance are on the top Nicomachean scale, but that COURAGE can be defined as (a) the "Courage to Forgive," and (b) "Courage to pursue Justice." That allows you to break down Forgiveness and Justice for additional value layers. It's important that you can relate all these values in some way, so the story organically seems "right."  Notice how I have Rahim moving from half-way between Forgiveness and Tolerance of Evil TOWARD Justice.  I suspect there are more of those "diagonal relationships" but this is the only one I saw tonight.
  • A successful movie, as THE KITE RUNNER is in every respect, provides for a group of characters that move in different directions and to different degrees along their inner arcs. What I suggest in the chart above is my estimate. Your chart of the same journeys may be different. That's okay. As long as there's a variety in the examination of the same values from various perspectives, both good, evil, and ambivalence. 
Another Example (Inner Journeys)

Here are the values for a story I'm working on with a client. I'm not revealing anything confidential because these values (sans characters) probably apply to dozens of stories and movies. My client's assignment is to populate the chart with his characters and  give them arcs. (See the instructions.)

And now, let's take this one step further. Below is a chart you can print out and fill in with your own value tri-poles and characters. Double clicking on the chart below should give you a BIG one to printout.

Click to download larger image for printing out.

Let me know how you do? Comments?


    Anonymous said...

    Great stuff here, thanks Stan!

    Anonymous said...

    Hi there, The MP statement for this movie contains many virtue/vice pairs.. I would like to learn more about the inter-connectedness (hierarchy etc..) of values (and subvalues). Can you point me to a book/blog/website which is a good source of this information?

    Stan Williams said...

    Anonymous: About all I know that is written on this is on this blog. This particular post on Kite Runner is one of four related posts all listed under Nicomachean ethics. All four should pop up with this link:
    or clicking on the Nicomachean Ethics topic at the right.

    Anonymous said...

    Thank you again for your help.