“You are the seed of tomorrow’s harvest.”
Frequently when we try to create perfection, something gruesome emerges instead. Unyielding, unforgiving. This is certainly the dystopian nature of the fictitious Homeland where Djata and his mother, Hannah (Agyness Deyn), reside as outcasts after Djata’s father, Peter, is taken as a traitorous prisoner, punished for speaking out.
But the adoring Peter leaves his boy with hope, a myth about Hank— the towering figure statued upon the hill overlooking Homeland. But it is not land he watches. Paternal protection around Little Hank and his treasures colors Hank’s watchful gaze. Those treasures are guarded by a mangled-faced cave-dweller called Pickaxe.
For weeks, Hannah lies to Djata about why his father is taken by soldiers. Djata exists in a stupor of innocence until the solders return and reveal the true reason Peter is taken captive and he and his mother have been left to survive alone.
“I will not have them brainwash you!”
It is a lovely home tucked within bountiful greenery. Fancy birthday wine, life-altering birthday gifts and off-kiltering and expensive life lessons grow in the plush gardens of Djata’s grandparent’s home. Both are former soldiers for Homeland while grandpa is a founding member.
It is during his visit with them that the truth about Djata’s father, the world and his predicament in it emerges. Djata is the grandson of beloved patriots and son to a traitor.
“You must never point a gun at another human being. Unless you want to kill them, of course.”
The world is always defined by the will of the state. Djata and his mother are friends to the community. Djata has his set of comrades that he roams the streets of Homeland with in almost a Stand by Me adventuring aimlessness and Hannah is cared for by her peers.
Until soldiers target the pair by restricting any communal service to them. They are not allowed to participate in economic or social life. Hannah and Djata are forced to confront these circumstances and try to find Peter, a mission that puts them face-to-face with the calculated cruelty of the state.
The White King, based on the György Dragomán novel, is a 2016 film depicting the extremities of the societal interplay of totalitarianism, technology and childhood.
Where the movie suffers is in its asking viewers who may not have read the book to take too many narrative points at face value. Hannah is “an undesirable”. What does that mean? They don’t say. Peter is imprisoned for speaking out. What’d he say? They keep that a secret. There is the sense of ever-present danger but aside from one use of brass knuckles and an order to starve Djata and his mother out, danger is only expressed through mean faces and stern words.
In this way, Homeland stands as any nation-state, in any time. Which could be valuable as a metaphor but doesn’t make the most effective use of the specialized coming-of-age in post-social-breakdown story type.
There is one saving grace that elevates The White King. Not unlike others in the genre such as The Hunger Games, this film bypasses sci-fi flashiness in favor of a narrative dynamic that is far more human and intimate.
This fairytale isn’t about the bullying fist of a shadowed government and a lean sense of personal autonomy but rather the lifting haze over a child’s consciousness as the authority of their parent’s word wears off.
Djata is okay with the way of the world until his mother transforms from a mythological god in his eyes to a mere mortal who lies.
The greatest dystopian tragedy of The White King is this betrayal, the destruction of this child’s ability to believe. There is a mysticism that evaporates with discovering his mother’s lie and Djata gets comfortable challenging the world, standing up to it.
Only then can Djata journey and fight.
Sacrifice comes only when we genuinely know what we want and who we are. We can’t surrender to our choices in make-believe.