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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

Finding Strength in Sticking Together
February 15, 2015

“How long shall it be till the end of these troubles?” That’s a quote from the Book of Daniel spoken by a refugee from the Sudanese Civil War in the movie “The Good Lie,” now out on DVD.

During the mid-1980s, more than 100,000 children in Sudan were displaced or orphaned because of the civil war that raged for political and religious reasons. Many of these children only escaped death themselves because they were working in the fields when soldiers arrived in their villages to murder everyone. Such is the case in “The Good Lie” with the characters Theo, Mamere, their sister Abital, and their friends Paul and Jeremiah.

Though they’re composite characters, screenwriter Margaret Nagle talked with 1,000 “Lost Boys of Sudan” (as they came to be known) in order to portray their plight realistically. These five siblings and friends journey a thousand miles by foot, fighting off cougars for food, drinking urine for hydration, and evading soldiers to survive. “We found strength in sticking together,” they explain later in the film. In the process, they display levels of maturity, resiliency, and selflessness from which American young people can learn a lot. 

By the time they reach a refugee camp in Kenya, they’ve lost several members of their group, including Theo who surrendered himself to soldiers to save the other kids. Mamere created the situation which led to Theo’s surrender, so the guilt he feels never goes away.

Though life in the camp is peaceful and the aid workers are kind, everyone gets by on the bare necessities. They also apply for visas to the U.S., where they hope to resettle and build new lives. It takes 13 years, but they finally achieve their goal in the year 2000. They’re met in Kansas City, Missouri, by Carrie Davis (Reese Witherspoon), whose job it is to find them jobs. Considering their lack of experience, this proves a challenge. The rest of the story follows the former “Lost Boys” and girl as they adjust to life in a land totally different from their own, and even teach Carrie some important lessons about building bonds of genuine friendship.

The actors who play the refugees are particularly good, maybe because they are actually Sudanese who experienced the war personally or via family stories. And while the first half-hour is suspenseful and serious, the film’s tone lightens once they get to the United States. Seeing these young people being introduced to American staples like McDonald’s and lime green Jell-O reminds us how funny and strange our culture can sometimes be.

Along with American oddities and culture shock, Mamere, Paul, and Jeremiah also discover wastefulness, such as when a supermarket manager would rather throw out his barely-expired food than give it to the homeless. It’s a sign that we can learn a lot from the immigrants who settle here.

The movie’s title “The Good Lie” refers to a quote from Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” in which Huck tells lies in order to save the life of his black friend Jim. Huck’s contention is that these lies are good because they are saving someone. Mamere relates this to the lie his brother Theo told in order to save him from the enemy soldiers. Justifying lying can be a slippery slope and many contend there is no such thing as a “good lie.” In the context of the movie, however, it makes sense.

Kudos to the filmmakers for creating an enlightening and entertaining story grounded in a history with which many people are unfamiliar.

 

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, PERSEVERING THROUGH PAIN AND STRUGGLE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org