BEASTS OF NO NATION
** SPOILERS **
"When this war is over, I am thinking I cannot go back to doing childish things."
In America, children play Call of Duty on their PlayStations. In the unnamed West African country setting of Cary Joji Fukunaga's urgent and astonishing Beasts of No Nation, children who should be playing together and enjoying their childhood are conscripted to fight a real war. Beasts of No Nation is the story of one such child, Agu (Abraham Attah), who grew up in a "buffer zone" surrounded by the fighting of his country's civil war, until government troops roll into his village and slaughter his father, grandfather and brother. Separated from his mother and baby siblings, perhaps forever, Agu is forced to flee into the bush until he's "saved" by the NDF, a ragtag battalion of young rebel soldiers lead by their Commandant (Idris Elba, the only professional actor in the picture). With the NDF, Agu is indoctrinated into a horrible world of war; he learns how to kill with his bare hands, participates in the wonton slaughter of his people, and struggles to survive and gain acceptance among the other children fighting this brutal war. All of this shatters his innocence in tragic, heartbreaking ways, as we learn through his touching conversations with God via Agu's voice over narration.
Beasts of No Nation can be seen as a grim sort of Peter Pan story, with Elba's Commandant as a grown up Pan and the Lost Boys his battalion. "I am their father and they are my family," Elba declares to his Supreme Commander, and we see Elba is the end result of a lifetime of fighting a rebellious war, his own innocence and even his belief in his cause lost long ago. Elba entertains his young, devoted, fanatical soldiers with ganji, stories of women they will bed and how they will share in their country's "resources" when they win the war, but the darkest side of his nature is seen when he takes special interest in Agu, inviting him into his bed as he has his other favorite boy, a mute named Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye). "Everyone betrays you in the end," the increasingly desperate Elba warns Agu, after he has committed himself and his battalion into mutiny against the NDF. By the time the exhausted and disillusioned battalion abandons Elba and surrenders to UN forces, Agu has seen and participated in countless horrors and suffers from untreated PTSD. In spite of the harrowing and appalling ordeals Agu endures, Fukunaga, who incredibly wrote, directed and shot Beasts of No Nation in Kenya, ends on a hopeful note. Beasts of No Nations opens with the sounds of happy children playing and by its end, that sound never seemed so sweet and earned.