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Cry, the Beloved Country

1 rating: 3.0
A movie directed by Darrell James Roodt

This adaptation of Alan Paton's 1948 novel travels from a Zulu village to the urban sprawl of Johannesburg with a black pastor who's searching for his sister and his estranged son. A wealthy man whose son has been murdered by the pastor's now-condemned … see full wiki

Tags: Movies, Dramas
Cast: Vusi Kunene
Release Date: 1995
MPAA Rating: PG-13
1 review about Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry, the Beloved County: A Cry for the Soul of Humanity...

  • Oct 17, 2001
Pros: Brilliant acting, and musical score. A timeless story...

Cons: Slow in places...

The Bottom Line: A lesson for life, an understanding of history we could all stand to learn...

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

Love verses hate, justice verses injustice, haves verses have-nots, equality verses inequality, respect verses disrespect, right verses wrong, white verses black. These are some the themes on which Cry, the Beloved Country are based. These are the themes of human existence; the themes, which so often define relations between Black people and White people no matter the continent, no matter the time and circumstance.

Based on Alan Patrons’ 1948 novel by of the same name, Cry, the Beloved Country is the poignant often unsettling story set in 1948 South Africa. As dawn set on the British Empire, its former colony of South Africa struck out on its own and forged a new nation steeped in racial bigotry, hatred, ignorance, and greed. A nation in which White people have all and Black people live on the fringes and scratch a meager living out of the scraps whites leave behind and little else; a nation in which the law, the institutions, the land and all it bestows belongs to White people. This despite the fact the country was built on the backs, blood, bones, sweat and tears of its indigenous and majority black population.

The film is telling in its stark portrayal of life in 1946 South Africa: the palatial, dignified beauty of white existence on sprawling ranches and farms, juxtaposition against the stark undignified ugly squalor of black existence on small plots of land eking out a meager existence, or suffering within the ghetto’s of Johannesburg, South Africa’s principle city and capital.

Into this backdrop the story evolves: James Earl Jones portrays a Black umfundisi, a priest, or preacher, who lives in a small backwater. The unfundisi (I love the way the word unfundisi rolls off the tongue, and tickles the ear) receives a letter one-day stating that his sister who lives in Johannesburg (Jo’burg) is sick. One can tell right away that the unfundisi is reluctant to go to Johannesburg almost as if he knows what pain, suffering and indignities await him there. But his brother and son are also in Jo’burg so out of devotion and duty to his family he makes the long trek into hell. I could sense the unfundisis’ innocence, his childlike fascination with the big city, and I knew without being told that his stay in Jo’burg would be life changing and almost to painful to bear.

Once in Jo’burg the unfundisi discovers that the sickness his sister has contracted has to do with sins of the flesh and soul—she is a prostitute; his brother John Kumalo (Charles S. Dutton) is a political activist who in his quest for justice has become as evil as the oppressors he seeks to vanquish; and his son has disappeared. He later learns that his son Absalom Kumalo (Eric Miyeni) is wanted in connection to the fatal shooting of the son of a wealthy white man James Jarvis (Richard Harris). Jarvis’ son is shot by a group of would be thieves (of which Absalom is one) in his home in Johannesburg. The shooter turns out to be the son of the unfundisi, who happens to live in the rural ranching community as the wealthy landowner. And although the two—the unfundisi and Jarvis—have crossed paths on several occasions, they have never spoken, never met, never encroached onto the others world. Fate in all its ironies have thrown them together under the most tragic of circumstances and in so doing set in motion the beginnings of an understanding of cultures and peoples, the slow dismantling of barriers, and the re-education of souls.

Through the lens of others, both the unfundisi and Jarvis lose their self-imposed cloud of ignorance, and comfortable innocence and for the first time in their lives face the world and reality as it really is. For the unfundisi this mean coming to grips that world he knew was an illusion, that eventually the outside world will demand you take notice; it will not be denied its pound of flesh and pint of tears from anyone. For Jarvis, it means coming to the realization that the faith he has practiced all of his life is hallow, and almost without meaning. After reading the essay in his dead sons belongings wherein, like Martin Luther King’s landmark Letter from a Birmingham Jail where Kings raises serious doubts about true Christian faith—Jarvis comes to the slow realization that perhaps Christian’s were doing evil by denying Blacks fair and equal treatment in all strata of life in South Africa. And through this sliver of light, which shines brighter with each passing day, comes the dawning of understanding and the renewal of his soul.

All of the principles did a remarkable job of method acting, throwing themselves in their respective roles with relish. James Earl Jones’ performance was stellar as always, and the emotions played out on his face like a neon sign; wide eyed innocence, anger, guilt, sorrow, happiness (though there was little of that), and pity.

The musical score for Cry, the Beloved Country was moving in-so-far-as it touched my soul with its slow simple, but beautiful cadence; I love the song that would become the anthem of the South African anti- apartheid movement. Even though I cannot understand the words, the inflection in the singers’ voices and the tone of the song convey its message of freedom, justice, and longing.

Unlike some critics, I think the movie did a marvelous job of portraying what life was like in post WWII South Africa, for blacks as well as whites; two separate worlds on a collision course, not unlike the United States after the Civil War. The parallel between the two countries is inescapable. Towards the end of the film I was inspired to write a poem, which I’ll include here. It sums up my thoughts and feeling after viewing Cry, the Beloved Country.

Of Black & White


Vincent E. Martin

Of justice:
I say there can be none as long as the power to dispense it lies in the hands
of those who would apply it with regard to skin color and the shades of humanity which define our outer selves.

Of equality:
I say there can be none as long as those who would define it, do so with an
eye on the color bar, a hand on the stick of oppression, and a foot on
the necks of black men and women.

Of freedom:
How can it be I ask for those of us with skin the color of finely crafted wood,
when those whose skin shines translucent hold to the power to restrict
it to those not so endowed?

Of dignity:
I say there can be none for the Black man as long as those who hold the bible close to
their chests’ and claim Christianity as their calling, afford it only to themselves and deny it to those who weep silent tears.

Of love:
I say there can be none between black men and white men, red man and white
man, yellow man and white man without the respect and dignity born
of all men bestowed upon all men by each of his fellows.


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12
Special Effects: Well at least you can't see the strings

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