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Film / Beasts of No Nation

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Does a boy have two eyes to see? A boy has hands to strangle and fingers to pull triggers. A boy is very, very dangerous. You understand me?
The Commandant

Beasts of No Nation is a dramatic film written and directed by Cary Fukunaga, based on the book of the same name, and was released on Netflix in October 2015.

In an unnamed West African country, a young boy named Agu (Abraham Attah) witnesses military forces beginning to occupy the small town where he and his family live. After his father, brother and grandfather are murdered by occupying forces, Agu flees into the jungle, where he is discovered by a group of Child Soldiers led by the Commandant (Idris Elba). Agu is conscripted into the ragtag army and begins to participate in raids on the occupying forces while struggling to keep what's left of his soul.

The film is notable for being Netflix's first original movie.


The film contains the following tropes:

  • Angry Dance: The Commandant psyches his men up for battle by getting them to sing and dance.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Agu has abandoned his soldiering and found a place to heal, but he is still haunted by his past trauma and has not been reunited with any of his remaining family.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • The Supreme Leader insults the Commandant by making him wait almost a full day before deigning to see him, then announces that he's being "promoted" to Vice Deputy of Security rather than be made a general. The Commandant understands that the Supreme Leader doesn't trust him and has kicked him upstairs.
    • The Commandant spreads only the flimsiest of pretexts over his assassination of the man who would replace him, blaming it on prostitutes even as the dying victim openly accuses the Commandant of orchestrating it.
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  • Bulungi: The film takes place in an unnamed and fictional West African country (the original novel is inspired by the Sierra Leone Civil War). The opening scenes show that their lives are pretty similar to that of anyone in the developed world. One subtle moment is that we see his mother cooking in a hut with a baby on her back. Cut to the next scene and we realize it's just a hut outside and that the rest of the house is fairly modern. Likewise when Agu is forced to flee into the jungle he obviously has no idea how to survive there and vomits up some inedible leaves he'd tried.
  • Camera Abuse: Blood gets splattered on the camera when Agu makes his first kill with the machete.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The old crazy woman who witnesses Agu and his older brother swindling a driver out of money in order to clear a road for him is the same woman who claims she doesn't know Agu's father (or the rest of the people on the firing line) when the military takes them captive. As a result, all of them are slaughtered, save for Agu.
  • Children Forced to Kill: Agu is forced to kill a prisoner to prove himself.
  • Child Soldiers: Agu, Strika and a many others. The NDF is almost completely filled with soldiers ranging from child to teen.
  • Coitus Interruptus:
    • Agu interrupts one other soldier's rape of a woman they found hiding in a closet by shooting her in the head.
    • The Commandant has a prostitute dispatch Two-I-C by shooting him in the side as they were in bed together.
  • The Coup: NDF rebels refer to the National Reformation Council (NRC) government as "the junta" throughout, but it is never fully explained whether this is simply a derogatory term or the military have taken power.
  • Defusing the Tyke-Bomb: The end of the film has Agu surrender to UN forces and enter a rehabilitation camp with other former child soldiers.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Commandant is never referred to by name.
  • A Father to His Men: Subverted with the Commandant, who fosters a cult of personality around himself in his men. At one point, he openly calls himself Agu's father. However, in the end, the Commandant's men abandon him when he can no longer provide for them.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Despite his charismatic exterior, the Commandant is a cold, evil man who only cares about getting the job done, at any cost. He particularly takes a shine to Agu, and comes to refer to both him and Strika as his "personal bodyguards" (despite raping both of them). In the end, though, the entire battalion completely deserts him when they see through his act.
  • Fictional Counterpart: A multinational African peacekeeping force called ECOMOD, comprised mainly of Nigerian soldiers is responsible for maintaining the initial buffer zone around Agu's village. This is likely a fictional version of the real life ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group), suggesting the acronym could stand for "Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Department".
  • Foreshadowing: The Commandant's secondary interest in his child soldiers is hinted at early in the film when we see a child walk into his tent and he casually follows him inside.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: One member of the NDF wears only a few belts into battle. This is based on real life: some African soldiers were known to go into battle naked to "confuse the enemy's bullets," such as the forces of General Butt Naked.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: One of Agu's comrades cuts his forehead and rubs dirt in the cut to make a scar, telling him that a scar will protect him. Surely enough, it's the only wound he receives.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Played straight and averted. The result of the battalion's violent actions are often seen in full, gory detail (like Agu shooting the woman who was being raped by a fellow soldier, or Agu slashing the captured man in the head with a machete), but it's also avoided several times - notably, Agu and Strika repeatedly slashing the downed prisoner with their machetes isn't shown.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • When the Commandant psyches the battalion up to retake the bridge in one village by singing and dancing, one soldier can be seen huddled on the ground looking on in fear. His ultimate fate is unknown.
    • Agu also gets this several times over the course of the film, including the ending.
  • Impairment Shot: When Agu is given a hit of "brown-brown" to counter his sadness after being raped by the Commandant, he experiences the effects of the drug while the formerly-brown and green world becomes bright purple and pink.
  • It's All About Me: The Commandant's actions in the last third of the film are motivated by him realizing that he's been passed over for the position he wants and is instead being Kicked Upstairs. To that end, he decides to fight against the rest of the rebels to maintain his pride.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • The old woman whose remarks caused Agu's father, brother and grandfather to be executed never receives any sort of comeuppance, and simply disappears from the plot as soon as Agu escapes his home village.
    • The Commandant never receives any punishment for his actions, and (although he's been abandoned by his men) is left untouched as they leave.
  • Kicked Upstairs: The Supreme Leader gives the Commandant a "promotion" to "Vice-Deputy of Security." The Commandant easily understands that he's being sidelined with an obviously toothless position and his men are being taken from him.
  • La Résistance:
    • The main rebel group featured in the film is the Native Defense Force (NDF), who are implied to be the largest rebel group fighting for and holding territory against the government.
    • Another rebel group, the PLF, is also mentioned, but nothing is revealed about them other than they fight both the NDF and the government.
  • Machete Mayhem: The Commandant selects a machete for Agu to use on a prisoner. Strika joins in with his own machete.
  • Mushroom Samba: Throughout the film, many of soldiers and the Commandant are seen using a drug called Brown-brown, either for when they go into battle or for recreational use. In one instance of the former, we see the effects and it causes Agu to see things in a surreal, purplish color palette.
  • The Oner:
    • When the Commandant's battalion is clearing out a building room by room, and Agu discovers a woman he initially believes to be his mother.
    • Also shown near the end, when the camera follows Agu as he walks through trenches filled with corpses and despondent soldiers.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The Commandant is a murderous warlord, but he takes it to the next level when he rapes Agu.
  • Riddle for the Ages: There are no explanations for why Agu's village was wiped out, what the battle is over, and even what country they're in.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The entire battalion abandons the Commandant after it becomes clear that their supplies are dwindling and morale is at an all-time low.
  • Shout-Out: The film (and the original book) are named after an album of the same name by Afro Beat musician Fela Kuti.
  • Sink-or-Swim Mentor: The Commandant not only puts the kids through Training from Hell, but precedes the first mission they go on (the bridge assault) by telling them that he's only taking the brave.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: The Commandant dies in the original novel. Here, he's simply abandoned by his men.
  • Time-Compression Montage: Of Agu and Strika taking part in various operations under the Commandant's leadership.
  • Tragic Bromance: Strika's death has a profound impact on Agu.
  • Training from Hell: The young recruits are trained by having them undergo a series of initiations, including being hit with sticks as they run through a gauntlet of other soldiers, and sleeping in an open grave. Anyone who fails to pass these tests is executed.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Agu goes through the wringer, witnessing his father, grandfather and older brother gunned down by the military, watches a rebel trainee get his throat slit after failing to make the grade, butchers at least one man with a machete blow on the insistence of the Commandant, guns down many more, witnesses Strika get killed, and gets raped by the Commandant before he surrenders to the UN at the end of the film.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The Commandant goes through this at the end, once he realizes that the battalion intends to abandon him. He warns them all that they'll think of him when they're poor and not getting any support, but it finally hits him when Agu (the one soldier who initially protects him when the other soldiers aim their guns) leaves as well.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Near the end, the Supreme Leader informs the Commandant that the U.N. has ultimately decided to side with their faction, implying them to be this. This also seems to be the reason why the Supreme Leader tries to sweep the openly brutal and ruthless Commandant under the rug, to present a better face to the outside world.
  • The Voiceless: Strika never says a word, though he does grunt in pain.
  • War Is Hell: Extremely. From the opening moments when the Government comes in and slaughters what is left of Agu's family to him being recruited by the rebels in which he endures countless murders and rapes, the film does not shy away from the horrors of war.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • We have no idea what the Commandant did or what happened to him after the soldiers leave.
    • We never find out what happened to Agu's mother and sister.
    • After Preacher and Randy abandon the rehabilitation camp near the end of the film are never mentioned again.