Saturday, March 2

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind Review

By Emery Snyder @leeroy711
Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Starring: Maxwell Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lily Banda & Aissa Maiga
Netflix Original – March 1, 2019

A small tribal village in Malawi is facing a “hunger season” due to a combination of flooding as well as a lack of foreign aid and an economic structure that devalues the crops of the farmers. William Kamkwamba, a local child engineering prodigy helps them build a wind turbine to power an electric well pump after reading about it in his school library, enabling their survival.  This film is based on his true story.

This is Ejiofor’s feature directorial debut, but it doesn’t show. The film was made with the steady and competent hand of a more experienced filmmaker. Of course, with 50 acting credits to his name, it’s not as if he’s a stranger to the medium. He’s worked with accomplished directors like Spike Lee, Stephen Frears, Steve McQueen and Alfonso Cuarón and I’m sure that his experience with technical craftsmen like that helped.

What we are given here is a fairly ‘paint-by-numbers’ plot with the technical flourishes to elevate it a bit above par as well as some nice subtext to chew on. To be clear, the plot’s predictability does nothing to lose points. It’s based on a true story and the title essentially gives away the film’s triumphant ending. We’re here for the journey, not the destination. The screenplay, adapted by Ejiofor hits the cinematic beats we have all grown accustomed to for the past century. But again, I’m not knocking it for this, familiarity is not always a bad thing. It is a compelling and inspiring story and I’m glad that it’s being told through film. Frequent Mike Leigh collaborator, Dick Pope provided the beautiful sweeping cinematography. The film is shot wide and does a great job of capturing the isolation and vastness of the region.

The subtext that Ejiofor used this film to elude to is what I found to be of particular note. What we are watching is a region that is caught in between two worlds. William is struggling to gain an education he can’t afford that would lift him up above his station. The full knowledge that this education would not only benefit him personally but also his village as well as the entire country does nothing to change the immediate fact that his able body is needed to toil in the fields. School is a luxury for those not currently facing starvation.

The country is seen as struggling to transition towards some form of democracy. But these early stages only pay lip service to the concepts of free expression and equality. And when bottom-line capitalism, meant to promote individual liberties quickly devolve into the cut-throat economics of desperation, the constituents begin to wonder what good the democratic process is at all.

William’s parents as well as the village elders are stuck in a similar struggle as they try to find the balance between their ancestral traditions and the modernization of the rapidly encroaching Western World. Trywell (Ejiofor) and Agnes (Maiga) lament that they always identified themselves as ‘modernists’ and that they had promised themselves that they would never ‘pray for rain.’ At the same time, they actively work to block the progress of their own children, dismissing William’s invention as ‘a toy’, blind to its potential. I found this to be the most prescient and interesting allegory of the film. Progressiveness is more than just abandoning the values and traditions held by previous generations. It also requires the embrace and acceptance that future generations will do the same to you. True progress will always need the rejuvenation of youth. This film, above all is a hopeful look at how this can and does work and I appreciate it for that.

Emery’s Rating
3.5 out of 5 Stars

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