Tuesday, July 25, 2006


I went to see TSOTSI tonight.
As well as numerous other awards.
On the edges of Johannesburg, South Africa, 19-year-old Tsotsi [means: street thug or gangster] (Presley Chweneyagae) grows us living a life that has no meaning beyond survival. Orphaned at an early age, he has learned to fend for himself. He is the leader of a small pack of petty (and becoming not so petty) criminals – Boston (a failed teacher), Butcher (aptly name assassin) and Aap (Tsotsi’s oldest friend).

One night, driven to the brink of desperation, Tsotsi steals a woman’s car. But not far down the road, he hears her baby begin to cry in the backseat. After crashing the car, Tsotsi takes the child back to his shack in the township and his life begins to change.

Actor Presley Chweneyagae gives a powerful performance as this young man filled with bitterness and violence who through the gift of a child, even for a short time, comes to understand that life is about more than self.

Tsotsi and his crew live to survive. We only see them come into town to commit crimes – and they are vicious crimes. They quickly find the weak and prey upon them. They care nothing about life or death, only the satisfaction of releasing their rage on their victims.

When Tsotsi chooses to bring the baby back to his shack, he takes upon himself the responsibility for another person. He is not equipped for all that is involved. He tries to feed the child canned milk, with minimal success. Soon he finds Miriam, a young widowed mother with a child of her own, and forces her at gunpoint to feed the child. In time he learns that caring for the child is beyond him, but how can he take it back? And what will life be like for him after having given himself, however inadequately, to another.

It is in his sharing his life, first with the child, then a bit with Miriam, and a bit more as he cares for Boston in his recovery after Tsotsi has beaten him so severely, that provides the beginning of redemption in his life.

Through brief and chaotic flashbacks we see a bit of what pushed Tsotsi to this life of anger and violence. We see his dying mother and cruel father. We see Tsotsi and Aap living in the pipes that make up the township’s orphanage. (Tsotsi later comes back to those pipes and sees the next generation that is headed toward his life.)

It's a film full of contrasts:
  • We see the skyscrapers of Johannesburg and the clean city streets where the child’s parents live,
  • then we see the expanse of the township that seems to go one forever.
  • We see the bare pipes that serve as shelter for the children without families,
  • then we see the child’s bedroom in his middle class parents’ home filled with toys and beautiful things.
Even within the township, we can see contrasts. Amid all the poverty, Miriam’s home has things of beauty. She has made mobiles.
  • One is made of rusted metal (“I was sad”)
  • Another is of brightly colored glass (“I was happy”)
  • There are the rich and poor
  • the loved (Miriam’s child) and the unloved (the children in the pipes)
  • those who survive and those who live
Tsotsi is on the cusp of moving from surviving to living. It is not an easy shift to make, and Tsotsi is only beginning to make the shift. But we keep hoping that the first steps he has taken will in time lead to life.

Tsotsi is a powerful film.
It's a dark film.
It's a film of hope and redemption.

Some may find the language and subject matter difficult
but it is a film well worth seeing.

Here are some links:
tsotsi movie site
hollywood Jesus review

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