The story of a kite runner named Hassan is set against the backdrop of Afghanistan’s turbulent history. The narrator and main character is not Hassan, but Amir, a privileged Pashtun boy living in Kabul. It is a mesmerizing tale of the bonds of friendship and blood strained by cultural traditions, history and, above all, individual actions. Suited for young adults, "The Kite Runner" movie and book has scenes that may be disturbing, especially to children.
"The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini works well in English and History classes due to the weave of historical events through a story rich in subtle symbolism and universal truths about childhood, friendship and love in its many forms. The main character, Amir, struggles throughout his boyhood with the sense that his father disapproves of him. He feels unloved by his father, Baba, and compares his own qualities with those of Hassan whose physical abilities and characteristics are more similar to Baba’s than his own. Amir’s relationship with Hassan, his closest friend but also his servant, is complicated by an age-old Afghani tribal caste system that places Hassan, a Hazara, beneath Amir, a Pashtun, in wealth, education and social standing. While the movie exposes Amir’s desire for his father’s love and the complexities of his and Hassan’s friendship, some alterations in dialogue, chronology and description make the movie’s revelations less powerful than the prose of the book. That being said, the movie is true to the story, and both the novel and film draw the audience in to a world that is foreign to many, yet filled with familiar emotions and relationships.
A look at one specific scene will demonstrate some of the minor differences between the book and movie.
The scene that introduces Assef:
The reader first meets Assef on the morning after the coup which took down the monarch and began a Republic with Daoud Khan as President. Amir and Hassan have spent a sleepless night listening to gunfire. After listening to Rahim Khan and Baba discussing the news on the radio, the two boys head to their favorite Pomegranate tree in a cemetery about a mile from their home where they often play and Amir reads aloud to the illiterate Hassan. In route, Hassan is struck from behind with a rock thrown by Assef. Along with two sycophantic cronies, Assef verbally abuses the two boys and insults Hassan who has slid behind Amir. When he threatens Amir with brass knuckles, a quick thinking Hassan draws his slingshot and drives the bullies away.
The viewer is introduced to this character when Hassan and Amir meet Assef and his friends in the street after seeing "The Magnificent Seven." Some of the dialogue is the same and Assef’s threatening, sadistic nature is apparent as well as his disdain for Hazara and Pashtun’s who “take these people in.”
Scene differences between the movie and the book:
Narration in the book reveals Amir’s inner struggle over his friendship with Hassan. When Assef questions how he can befriend a Hazara, Amir almost yells that Hassan is a servant, not a friend. Amir inwardly questions himself about his treatment of Hassan. He wonders why he doesn’t include him when other children are around. This issue is addressed in the movie during the attack on Hassan in the alleyway. However, in the book it provides a glimpse into Amir’s character and confusion regarding class, friendship and social norms in Kabul. When the same question is used by Assef to taunt Hassan, it still points out the unfair class separation and Amir’s participation in it, but does not allow us to appreciate Amir’s own lack of understanding of the situation.
The coup and change of government is left out in the movie scene. Afghanistan is already a republic and the issue of government is not addressed. In the book Assef refers to Daoud and his hopes that the new leadership will purge Afghanistan of Hazara. Readers learn he idolizes Hitler and tells his German mother that he was a man with vision. It is also revealed that Amir believes “that Assef might not be entirely sane.”
Nuances in dialogue also change what is imparted by the scene in the book as compared to the movie. When Hassan bravely produces his loaded sling shot and aims it at Assef, he asks, (in the movie and book), for Assef to leave them alone. However, use of the word Agha is expanded on in the book and drives home the profound power Afghanistan’s class system has over all of the major characters. A term of respect, Amir considers “what it must be like to live with such an ingrained sense of one’s place in a hierarchy.” The significance of Hassan’s use of Agha is not demonstrated as effectively in the movie.
Overall, the movie and book differences for "The Kite Runner" do not affect the poignancy of the story. Historical background is slightly more detailed in the novel, but either the book or movie make an excellent supplement to a modern history curriculum. The symbolism and themes of the book are evident in the movie also. The experience of reading "The Kite Runner" for an English class, or just for yourself, can only be heightened by viewing the movie as well.
- Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner, Penguin Group, 2003.
- The Kite Runner. DreamWorks Pictures, 2007.