Wonder Woman (2017)

 Our associate reviewer Dr. Markus Watson offers a second look at this popular movie.

Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 21 minutes.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 7; Sex/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.  On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

1 Peter 3:9

Wonder Woman with Steve & friends in a French village they have liberated from the Germans. (c) Warner Bros.

Themyscira is a beautiful island whose existence has been hidden for centuries from the rest of the world.  It is inhabited by the mighty Amazons, an all-female tribe of gorgeous warrior women.

It is on this island that we meet Diana (Gal Gadot), the princess of Themyscira.  Diana wants to learn to fight, has a passion for doing what is right, and she wants to protect her island and the world from whatever evil may attack.

Then one day, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane into the ocean just off the coast of Themyscira.  It is through him that Diana discovers the world is at war.  But not just any war.  It is World War I, the War to End all Wars.

Diana is ready to fight.  More specifically, she is ready to kill Ares, the god of war, who she believes is behind this Great War.   If only Ares can be destroyed, the war—Diana is convinced—will end.

So she follows Steve Trevor back to Europe where she finds a world unlike anything she could ever have imagined.  She sees pain.  She sees suffering.  She sees cruelty and cowardice.  The more darkness she sees, the more she is convinced that once Ares is dead, the world will be good and beautiful and whole once again.  When Ares is dead, there will be peace.

Diana, together with Steve and three mercenaries, embarks on a mission to destroy a chemical weapons factory.  When they arrive at the factory, Diana does finally face off with Ares (David Thewlis).  But as Diana does battle with Ares, Steve sacrifices himself to destroy the chemical weapons.  It is then that Diana recognizes what will truly bring an end to war and save the world—love.

It sounds cheesy, but Diana is right.  It is love that will save the world.  It is love that will bring an end to the darkness.  It is love that will make the world whole again.

This is, in fact, how God did save the world.  When the world was at its worst—or as the Apostle Paul puts it, “while we were still sinners”—God sent his Son to conquer the world’s evil through love.  Instead of judging people, Jesus embraced them.  Instead of excluding people, Jesus welcomed them.  Instead of hurting people, Jesus healed them.  Rather than taking from people, Jesus gave.  And when the authorities attacked, tortured, and executed him, Jesus absorbed their violence and forgave them.  Rather than making them (and us) suffer for our sin, Jesus endured torture and death for our sin.

In some mysterious way, Jesus broke the power of sin.  Not only did he demonstrate the only way evil can truly be conquered, Jesus really did conquer evil through his sacrifice.  And he made it possible for the world to be made whole once again.

Is this how Diana conquered evil in the movie?  Well, that’s the irony.  She says she understands now that “only love can save the world.”  But she still defeats evil through violence and force.  It’s the other character—the one who died while destroying the chemical weapons—who overcame evil through love.

At least Diana (aka, Wonder Woman) is on the right track.

This review with a set of questions will be in the July 2017 issue of VP.


Wonder Woman (2017)

Rated. Running time: 2 hours 21 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 4; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 3.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Psalm 82:3-4

Diana’s bullet-repelling gauntlets enable her even to attack the German machine gun nests that have stopped the Allied troops so often.                    (c) Warner Brothers

Although I am not a keen fan of the superhero genre, I do welcome this new addition because it provides our daughters with a worthy role model, even though the film still embraces power and violence.

The film opens with a present-day prologue in which Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, aka Wonder Woman) is at her office in the Louvre when a Wayne Enterprises truck delivers a package to her. Opening it, she stares at a picture taken a hundred years ago. It shows Wonder Woman, sword in hand, standing during four armed men, a Turk, a handsome young man, a hatted Native American, and a kilt-clad Scotsman. In the background are buildings of a French village and a large WW 1 tank. It will be a while before we learn the men’s identities as the faithful and courageous companions of Wonder Woman.

The old photograph takes the viewers back in time to Diana’s youth on the island of Themyscira, shrouded by mist and some type of field shielding it from the scrutiny of the outside world. Here lives the race of Amazons, presided over by Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and the regent’s sister, Antiope (Robin Wright). The latter is trainer whom little Diana longs to join, but she is held back by her mother. The girl persists through the years, Hippolyta eventually giving in because her sister tells her they must be ready when and if they have to face outside forces threatening the peace of their island. She tells Antiope to press her harder than she has anyone else, which she does. Diana proves to be the best of the warriors, eventually able to stand up to the onslaughts of her mentor during their arduous training sessions.

The outside world does impinge on the Amazons when a WW 2 fighter plane crashes into the sea, and Diana swims out to rescue the unconscious pilot. Soon a boat load of armed Germans land on the beach. The ensuing battle is a fierce one. As skilled as they are with their bows and arrows and acrobatic flights, many of the Amazons are nonetheless cut down by the German guns, including Antiope. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), recovering from his near-drowning, also fights along with the Amazons, and after the Germans are killed, explains that a World War is raging in the outside world. In Europe the Allies and Germans are about to sign an armistice, but there is a German general and a scientist who have developed a super weapon, a deadly gas, that they plan to release on the front lines. Millions of soldiers on both sides would be killed, but the plotters do not care if it would prevent the signing of the armistice so that they can continue the war, one which they could win with the new weapon.

Diana, of course, agrees to go into the world with Steve to use her skills and power for the triumph of right. Like young Arthur of the old legend, she goes to the shrine and extracts the marvelous sword awaiting her use and picks up the shield that will protect her body and a glowing lasso that forces anyone wrapped in it to tell the truth. She also possesses a pair of gauntlets with which she can deflect bullets. There follows lots of action-packed sequences in which our favorite Amazon lives up to the expectations of her deceased mentor and Queen Mother, her highly honed skills aided by her shield, lasso and bullet-repelling gauntlets. (Though her charge of the German trenches, during which she deflects what must have been thousands of bullets from the machine guns pointed at her from all along the line, is a bit beyond believable, but hey, this is basically an animated comic book.)

The script, mainly by Allan Heinberg, includes many humorous sequences, such as the one in the boat in which Diana and Steve set sail from. (And note that a woman, Patty Jenkins s the director!) The two exchange information about each other and are uncomfortable concerning sleeping arrangements. Steve asks, “Have you never met a man before? What about your father?” “I have no father. I was brought to life by Zeus.” Well that’s neat. Reaching London, Steve introduces his companion to Etta, who tells Diana, “I’m Steve Trevor’s secretary.” Diana asks, “What is a secretary?” and Etta replies, “I go where he tells me to go, I do what he tells me to do.” Diana comments, “Where we come from, that’s called slavery.” And Etta replies, “I like her!” (Actress Lucy Davis is a real scene stealer—let’s hope she signs on to the inevitable sequels!)

All the cast members are excellent, with Gal Gadot proving a worthy successor to the beloved Lynda Carter, star of the TV series in the 70s. Chris Pine makes us care for Diana’s companion and love-interest, so that when he sets out on his courageous mission to save the lives of others, we are truly moved by the result—especially because he has left Diana his watch, saying to her, “I wish we had more time together. I love you.”

My main criticism is that the script follows the Allied propaganda practice of WW 1 by depicting all of the German characters as brutish thugs willing to destroy villages and their civilians for their own ends, but then, this is a comic book adaptation, a genre known for painting its villains in the darkest of colors. The General is especially a cardboard character, but his cohort, the scientist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) is a bit more complex, she with her destroyed face partially covered by a mask. I would have liked to have learned a bit more of her past and motivations.

If the scripts of the sequels are as good as this one, we will be in for a real treat as we again watch a woman take the lead in saving the world. And who, despite her physical powers, has her heart in the right place when she says, “It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.”

This review with a set of questions will be in the June 2017 issue of VP. Please help keep this site going by purchasing an issue of the journal or subscribing to it.


The Promise (2016)

Rated PG-13. Running Time: 2 hours 13 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 5; Language 2; Sex/ Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 4:1-3

Ana comforts some of the orphans in her care. (c) Open Road Films

Thanks to director Terry George’s film we now have a second feature film set amidst what some historians have called the 20th Century’s First Holocaust, the mass slaughter of Armenians in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire in 1915 during WW 1. There had been numerous pogroms inflicted by their Muslim rulers on the Armenian Christians during the 19th century, but their death tolls mounting into the thousands paled in comparison to the well over a million men, women and children who were murdered a little over a hundred years ago. George and his co-writer Robin Swicord based their script on Austrian Franz Werfel’s 1933 novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a talented Austrian writer* whom historians have affirmed, got his facts right. (With Hitler’s rise to power in that year, the book was burned and banned, and the author forced to emigrate when the Germans annexed Austria.)

The film opens in the village of Siroun in 1914 where Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), working in an apothecary, hopes someday to be able to attend medical school. His father arranges a marriage with a wealthy family that includes a large dowry that can pay tuition expenses for medical school in Constantinople. He will be able to live with his uncle during his studies. He assumes that he will fall in love with the woman, Maral (Angela Sarafyan) he has just been introduced to, but because she is not his co-star, we know otherwise.

Sure enough, in Constantinople on his arrival at the uncle’s mansion, he is introduced to Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), just returned from dance school in Paris and currently teaching dance to the two lively young daughters of his uncle. She is currently the love interest of the American AP correspondent Chris Myers (Christian Bale), in the city to report on the growing ethnic tensions in Turkey. Thus, a love triangle develops, with Ana and Mikael drawing every closer as ethnic violence rises in the city and across Turkey. Before fleeing the city, Mikael and Ana barely escape from a street mob of Turks bent on smashing Arminian-owned shops and beating anyone they come across in the streets.

During the course of the story we see round-ups and forced marches of Armenian victims. Chris has hired a car to take him into the countryside where he sees at a distance soldiers shoot a woman who has fallen out of line. When they spot him taking a picture, they chase after him, but fortunately their horses cannot catch up to the speeding car. Mikael is seized and sent to a slave labor camp where the prisoners work laying down tracks for the new railroad. After witnessing many cruelties, he escapes when a fellow prisoner blows himself and his guards up.

Their love story climaxes on the mountain called Musa Dagh where some 5000 Arminian refugees hope to find safety. Having seen the bodies of everyone from his home village piled up just outside the town, Mikael is able to convince the column of refugees and their leaders that their rulers are indeed bent on exterminating all Armenians so that they will have to defend themselves. The mountain offers them a means of setting up a better defense against their pursuers, and a view of the sea from which maybe the French warships patrolling the area might spot their signal fires and come to rescue them.

People of faith will be glad to see that the role of the church is recognized by the filmmakers. There is a fairly long scene of Mikael and his villagers worshiping in their village, all joining in the singing led by the priest. Much later at an orphanage run by Protestant missionaries this beautiful liturgical music comes in on the soundtrack over the French-Canadian song “Alouette” as Ana leads the children’s singing, making for a lovely blend. The head of the orphanage is Pastor Merril (Andrew Tarbet), a missionary dedicated to serving the weakest of the victims. (There was a huge relief project mounted in Europe and the United Sates to bring food, shelter, and safety to Armenians and other groups driven from their homes in Turkey.) Another minister (or priest) is the

Reverend Dikran Antreassian (Daniel Giménez-Cacho), a real-life Armenian who, according to an account I read, was an organizer of the resistance at Mount Moses (Musa Dagh).

Chris had been arrested as a spy and saved from execution  by their Turkish friend Emre Ogan (Marwan Kenzaro), who paid for his life for his gallant effort. The journalist now joins the group at the mountain as, with just a few rifles but lots of rocks and sticks, the people dig in and await the arrival of the Turkish troops. After a fierce skirmish, the over-confident Turks are forced to run away, leaving behind many bodies—and rifles and ammunition. The government promptly dispatches from Gallipoli a unit equipped with artillery commanded by a veteran general. However, the ragged band of Armenians prove far tougher than anticipated, this sequence reminding me of the fierce resistance of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto during the next World War. (For a riveting retelling of this heroic saga see my review of Uprising.)

Although sad and depressing in depictions of the ways that men can drive themselves and their subordinates to mass murder, the film is also inspiring in that it also shows people rising to heights of bravery and compassion. The latter includes a Muslim pair who offer aid at one point, and, of course, the Turkish playboy friend of the three lovers who served as the means for Chris’s escape from death, but at the cost of his own life, And the battle atop the mountain, though it involves a measure of tragedy for our three fictional characters, concludes with a note of triumph which I will leave to you to discover.

The major cast members are excellent, and there is a great cameo by James Cromwell as real life U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, who serves as a wonderful example of what a skillful diplomate can achieve. Although some critics are right in judging the love story as “predictable,” this in no wise detracts from the dramatic power of the scenes of persecution and execution spread throughout the film. Other than Canadian-Armenian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s Ararat, we have no feature film that brings the horror of that action to public attention. (Hopefully, documentarian Joe Berlinger, who spent much time on the set of this film, will be releasing a non-fiction account of this genocide.) During our time of nationalistic xenophobia and tendency to reject refugees, such a film as this is needed. In a 1939 speech, Hitler** said cynically, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Well, Terry George, director of the powerful film about genocide in Africa Hotel Rwanda, has. Embittered by the murder of his family and neighbors, it is understandable that Mikael wants to get even with the killers. At one point, he says to Ana, “I want revenge.” “Our revenge will be to survive,” replies Ana. Survive some did, and this film is a tribute to them. To this day, the government of Turkey continues to deny that a genocide took place on their soil, but Terry George and Atom Egoyan are two filmmakers who have tried to make the world listen and care.  It behooves us to support and affirm their witness to human depravity and nobility.

*From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Genocide

 This review with a set of questions will be in the May 2017 issue of VP.

Frantz (2016)

(German/French with English subtitles)

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 53 min.

Our content ratings  (1-10): Violence 2; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 3.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,[b]
and my bones waste away.

Psalm 31:9-10


Pierre is a welcome guest at the Hoffmeister home. (c) Music Box Films

Most of the main characters are in distress in French director François Ozon’s post World War 1 tale set in the small town of Quedlinburg, Germany. Twenty-some Anna (Paula Beer) is the depressed fiancée of Frantz Hoffmeister (Anton von Lucke), but they will never marry because he was killed in the trenches near the end of the war. She is currently living with his grieving parents, Dr. Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stoetzner) and his wife, Magda (Marie Gruber). They regard her as a daughter, perhaps more so because Frantz had been their only child. Thus, when the middle-aged patient he is currently examining, known only as Kreutz (Johann von Buelow), reveals his desire to marry Anna, it is from the doctor that he seeks permission to court her. When Kreutz tells her that he can make her forget Frantz, she promptly turns him down, saying that she does not want to forget him.

During her daily pilgrimage to the cemetery where the family has created a symbolic grave (Frantz’s body having been tossed into a mass grave at the front), Anna spies a young man placing roses on it. When she asks around, she is told that he is Adrien Rivoir (Pierre Niney), a Frenchman staying at the local hotel. Later that day he comes to the Hoffmeisters’ to speak with the doctor, but the embittered old man orders him out of the house when his visitor tells him that he is French. Hans would not allow for any explanation. “Every French man is my son’s murderer,” he exclaims, his visitor agreeing that all soldiers are murderers. However, when Pierre returns and speaks with Anna and Magda, they are won over by his claim to have been a good friend of Frantz, the latter such a Francophile that he had become fluent in French, even as he had learned German. Hans, who has been listening in on their conversation, soon joins them.

Over the course of the next few days Pierre brings comfort to the household by recounting their visits to the Louvre where they were drawn to a Manet portrait of a young man with his head thrown back. The two men were also bound together by their love of and performance of music, with Pierre, a violinist in an orchestra in Paris, helping Frantz to improve his violin technique.

A most emotional sequence is the one in which Hans opens his son’s violin case and asks Pierre to play, saying the instrument is a gift to him. Pierre gently declines, but later, with all three Germans together, he does play a lovely melody for them. It looks like he and Anna are destined for each other when she joins in on the piano, their playing perhaps a symbol of the two once warring nations overcoming their old hostility and living together in harmony.

Countering this good feeling is a gnawing suspicion that the relationship between Pierre and Frantz might have been more than brotherly love, this fueled by the somewhat effeminate look of actor Pierre Niney. However, this conjecture is short lived. Pierre discloses something to Anna that is so shocking that she withdraws from him. She does not tell Hans and Magda Pierre’s secret, and soon after this he leaves town.

From Paris Pierre writes to her, but she hesitates to respond, torn so by her emotions. Before his abrupt departure, he had been scheduled to dine with the family. She lies to the couple about him, and this too is so disturbing to her that she confesses to her priest, revealing the terrible secret Pierre had confided to her. The cleric kindly observes that sometimes a lie can be better than telling the truth if the latter would bring only pain, and that there can be forgiveness for this.

By the time Anna replies to Pierre, her letter is returned, marked address unknown. In a turmoil, she does something irrational and deadly, but eventually emerges from her despair with the determination to go to Paris to search for Pierre. Her “parents” strongly support this, they also being very fond of their former enemy.

Besides the issue of telling lies to protect loved ones from pain, the film deals with the dark feelings of anger and resentment that war leaves in its aftermath. While in the village, some of the villagers express their hatred for the visiting Frenchman. Kreutz appears to be the head of a group that meet at the pub to grouse over their defeat in the War and to look toward a day when their country will be strong enough to thrust aside the humiliations forced upon it—we can easily imagine that in a few years they will be wearing Nazi armbands. When Pierre takes Anna to a local dance, Kreutz, upset because Anna had refused his invitation to take her, stirs up the crowd against the Frenchman.

Much later in the film, Hans enters the pub where Kreutz and his gang have been criticizing the doctor for his hospitality toward Pierre. One by one the men turn down Hans offer to buy them a round of drinks. When they attack the French for killing their sons (almost all of them had lost a boy), Hans launches a diatribe that ends with, “Who killed your boys? Who sent them to the front?” he asks accusingly. “We did: their fathers. We are responsible.” In Paris Anna also experiences the narrow, hostile patriotism of the French when at a café, the crowd joins in singing “La Marseillaise.” Ozon probably intends for us to recall the stirring scene in Casablanca when the patrons at Rick’s nightclub sang the anthem as a means of protesting the presence of the Nazi officers. What a difference the context makes, as in this film it is used to show the exclusion of Anna due to the lingering hatred between the two nations.

In the last act of the film the focus is almost entirely upon Anna’s emerging from the protection of and dependency upon the Hoffmeisters during her journey to Paris to find Pierre. She visits the Louvre, seeking out the Manet painting that Pierre had said was so impressive. She is surprised to discover that it is “The Suicide,” a subject as dark as the state of Pierre’s and her soul. Tracking down Pierre to an estate some distance from Paris, ruled over by Pierre’s aristocratic mother (Cyrielle Clair), leads to another unsettling discovery. And yet Anna’s message to the kind Hoffmeisters at the end seem to bear out Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Still, we wonder about her future and the wisdom of lying in order to protect loved ones from the pain of truth.

This is a fascinating film about complex people dealing with emotions that still resonate almost a hundred years later—the hostility between nations and their people. The film is shot mostly in crisp black and white, slowly morphing into color a few times: when we see Frantz and Pierre in France visiting the Louvre and playing their violins; and Anna and Pierre emerging from a dark tunnel in a huge rock overlooking the village and relishing the beautiful view of village and surrounding area; and, especially the film’s closing shot of Anna. Not knowing of the 1932 Ernst Lubitsch dramatic film Broken Lullaby upon which Ozon has based his film, I was surprised by Pierre’s revelation that led to his sudden departure from Germany. The film is time specific, but the themes of guilt and grace are not. Even if you are averse to subtitled films, you should see this one.

This review with a set of questions will be in the May 2017 issue of VP.

Theeb (2014)

Arabic with English Subtitles

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 40 min.

Our content ratings: Violence 5; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 0.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,

for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:2


Hussein is mentor & playmate to his younger brother Theeb.               (c) Film Movement

This coming of age film is the Jordanian contender this year for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. It is the debut feature film of Naji Abu Nowar and co-writer Bassel Ghandour. Fans Of Lawrence of Arabia will especially be interested that it takes place close to the time of the Arab uprising during World War 1, the same period depicted in David Lean’s film. And like the earlier film, it shows how beautiful, and deadly, the desert can be.

Theeb (Jacir Eid) is a young Bedouin boy living with his two older brothers in a province of the Ottoman Empire through which pilgrims pass on their way to Mecca. Their recently deceased father had been the sheik, so now the eldest of the three holds that position. Theeb means “wolf,” but the young boy is still more like a lamb when we first see him playing with his older brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh) and receiving instruction in aiming and firing a rifle. The extended family had made their living as pilgrim guides, but the building of the railroad has put an end to this.

One night as the elders sit in their tent playing a game two strangers appear out of the darkness, an English officer (Jack Fox) and his desert guide and interpreter Marji (Marji Audeh). Despite the aloofness of the foreigner, the men offer the newcomers full hospitality. Hussein and Theeb are sent to kill a goat for the feast. We see that he is still a boy when, asking to be allowed to kill the bleating animal, the boy holds the knife, but cannot bring himself to strike.

The visitors have come because of their father’s good reputation as a guide. Learning that he is deceased, they request that someone take them to their destination, a well dating back to Roman times. It had been abandoned when the nearby railroad offered a more convenient and faster means to reach Mecca. The taciturn officer does not reveal his reasons for locating the well, but we presume that it is a military one, part of a plan to attack the Ottoman-controlled railroad. In his baggage he carries a locked case made of oak that Theeb is curious about. Due to its upright rectangular shape we surmise that it contains a detonator. At last twice we will see the officer chastise Theeb for examining it.

Although the journey will be dangerous because of bandits that prey on travelers, the Bedouins agree to send a guide. Hussein accepts his older brother’s assignment, and the three set out the next morning. Theeb had wanted to go, but had been forbidden. Not accepting his brother’s refusal, the boy follows them on his donkey. Eventually he leaves the balky little beast and continues on foot. That night, when he catches up with the party, the three adults are upset. The next day they discuss who is to take the boy back home, the officer and guide deciding to press on alone. However, they have gone but a few paces when Hussein gives in to his emdedded Bedouin code. The two had been guests whom he had promised to serve as a guide. He cannot just leave them. Theeb will have to come along, riding behind him on his camel. The journey continues, but if we think this is like a Hollywood movie in which the gruff officer will form a warm relationship with the likable Arab boy, we soon learn otherwise. They reach the well, but instead of lifting up water, they draw out blood. Floating in the water at the bottom are the bodies of those apparently allied with the English.

The raiders who killed the men attack the new comers, killing the officer and his guide. Hussein and Theeb dash quickly for the camels, but are soon blocked by the bandits. Abandoning their animals but taking their rifles and ammunition, they climb up the side of a canyon and crouch behind a rock. As darkness falls and the killers search for them the brothers listen to the voices mocking them as their sound echoes back and forth against the canyon walls. During the ensuing firefight Hussein shoots two of their attackers, but is hit and killed himself. The next morning, the bandits are gone, expecting the lone boy to die in the desert. Theeb sorrowfully covers his brother with sand and fashions grave markers from fallen stones.

Before his death Hussein, always looking out for Theeb’s welfare, had told him that in the event of his death, Theeb should stay by the well because some traveler would be coming by. This the boy does, and sure enough, later on he spies an approaching figure atop a camel. The man does not return his greeting, Theeb eventually discerning that the rider is unconscious. With the black clad man on the ground, it is apparent that he is one of the bandits who had killed his brother. Taking the pistol that the marauder had stolen from the dead Englishman, Theeb keeps his distance. He would have ridden off on the man’s camel, but the kneeling animal stubbornly pays no attention to the stranger’s commands or lashing.

The killer (Hassan Mutlag) awakens, calling for water. Theeb does not respond at first, but then the Bedouin ethic of hospitality, even to an enemy, comes to the fore, the boy taking and dropping the leather water bag within the man’s reach, but retreating a distance. Still weak, the man slowly recovers enough, the two now exchanging brief words, the most important ones being a combination of a plea and a warning, “Without me you will die.” The boy helps in the painful extraction of the bullet from the marauder’s leg and then by building a fire to heats up the man’s dagger so its owner can cauterize the wound. When the man is strong enough to travel toward the distant Ottoman post guarding the railroad, he talks about the change that has overtaken their desert. Before the coming of the railroad he too had been a pilgrim guide. Now, in order to live, he fights against and steals from his brother Bedouins.

Like all good journey films (as described in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey), this one involves an inner as well as an outer journey. Young Theeb moves from the protection of his brother into a harsh world in which he must protect himself by means of his wits. The subtheme of change is also well handled. The railroad was progress for Europeans and Muslim pilgrims, but for those depending on the pilgrimage for their livelihood as guides, it meant disaster, upending their Bedouin way of life, even had not the WW 1 clash between the Ottoman Empire and the Western Allies not had engulfed them. By the time the dusty pair reach the Ottoman desert post, Theeb has journeyed from lamb status to that which his name signifies, wolf. We are left wondering if what the boy does at the climax is progress, or the beginning of some sad journey into violence and pillage himself.

Only at the end do we hear and see what has become an important symbol in the film. Several times we have viewed the twin steel rails of the train track, but now a small train chugs along those tracks. Theeb himself is riding a camel as he leaves the Ottoman outpost. Will he ever ride that train? We might like to know more about his future, but that, as they say, is another story—one with an unlikely happy ending.

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the Feb. 2015 issue of VP.