Now, thanks to a brilliant script by David Benioff (Troy, 25th Hour) and the astute direction of Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction), the beloved book comes to life in cinematic form four years its release as a novel. The journey’s been arduous, but the final result indicates that the stunning literary debut by Hosseini has received its definitive companion piece.
The story of The Kite Runner follows the life of Amir, an Afghan man (Hosseini himself is a native Afghan) who has been living in the United States since the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. One day, somewhat out of the blue, he receives a phone call from a friend of his father’s – he requests Amir’s return to Afghanistan. The words linger in the air throughout the film: “there is a way to be good again.”
Thus, the journey on which the viewer embarks is one of a profound moral complexity, of atonement and reparation. In the same breath, there’s the story of the fall of Afghanistan and Amir’s personal voyage of catharsis.
When asked about the link between the book and the problems that face Afghanistan today, Hosseini remarks, “Radical Islam changed Afghanistan forever.”
In the film, Amir returns to his home country only to discover that the Taliban has ravaged Afghanistan. In place of a developing nation, problematic but relatively democratic, he finds a land shattered by war.
The film carries a message of the need for good men to be proactive, rather than just simply the need to avoid evil and extremism. The message is carried both in Dari, the native tongue of the Afghan people, and in English, the adopted language of Amir.
Forster decided early on that the need for linguistic legitimacy would be essential to the integrity of the story.
“If you have kids in 1970s Afghanistan speaking English, it would just not be right,” he says. “You need that emotional connection to something real.” Hosseini was thrilled to hear that the film would maintain Dari in its final form and even re-worked some of the lines from translations of David Benioff’s script. Here’s an adaptation that lent itself to the truth of its setting, rather than the convenience of its logistics.
Along with the bold choice to shoot the majority of the film in Dari, the filmmakers were intent on casting actors with realism and honest precision. For the parts of the children that set the tone for the story (Amir and his friend Hassan), they hired Zekiria Ebrahibi and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, two inexperienced children from Kabul. Throughout the film, there is a sense of weathered innocence, of childhood tainted by the brutality of national turmoil.
The adult leads were chosen in a similar fashion, with one main difference: none of them were native Afghans. Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla was the final choice for the role of adult Amir. For the part of Baba (Amir’s father), Iranian Homayoun Ershadi was selected.
Another notable presence is Shaun Toub (Crash) in the skin of Rahim Khan, the catalyst for Amir’s return to Afghanistan. Each actor lent his or her own passion to the roles, in a story of recovered honor.
“Many people think Afghans are Arabs; people see that part of the world with a very broad lens,” Hosseini says. “The book shows a very different side of Afghanistan than the one we’ve become familiar with.”
Encapsulated in the intricate intimacy of The Kite Runner is a pulsating heart of a writer who loves the country of his youth. At the core of the story that has now successfully traversed from page to screen, there’s a metaphor that transcends cultures and penetrates hearts.
Picture this: a solitary kite, flying in the skies of Kabul, defying in one breath both gravity and stereotype. This is the story of Amir and ultimately the lasting effect that is the soul of The Kite Runner.
The Kite Runner releases in select theaters on Dec. 14.