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One of the most important things about being human is having the ability to be able to make choices. People make all sorts of choices that influence their future and set them on a certain path. In the films, Henry V and The Beach and the book Tsotsi the main characters all make critical choices that influence their destinies. However the ways the filmmakers Kenneth Branagh and Danny Boyle and the author Athol Fugard represent the importance of choice ranges from being complex and thought provoking to superficial and confusing.
The book Tsotsi shows the importance of moral choice, highlighting the concept that a person, through his own free will, can change and become a good and moral person. The title character of Athol Fugard’s book, Tsotsi, is shown to have become an angry young man because of a dark turn of events earlier on in his life and he is now a ruthless gang leader. His gang and he have chosen a life of violence and committing all kinds of brutal crimes. An example in the book is when after the gang rob and murder Gumboot Dhlamini, members Butcher and Die Aap take a drunken woman outside a bar that they’ve gathered at and rape her, showing how this uncaring and unsympathetic gang and Tsotsi have chosen to do evil and have no sense of morality. However gang member Boston is the only one who displays regret for these actions. He lectures Tsotsi about feeling a cut in his decency, going so far as to cut his arm. “When we dropped that big one tonight it was like that inside me.” Tsotsi lashes out at Boston because he has shut out all knowledge about caring and can’t respond to Boston when he is questioned about feeling decent or loved, or even having a soul. Afterwards Boston tells Tsotsi “You’ll feel something one day…it’s going to happen. And God help you that day, because when it comes you won’t know what to do…with that feeling.”
Boston’s words comes back to Tsotsi, in the form of a baby that he discovers in the back seat. Of a car he steals. We would probably expect someone as cold as Tsotsi to have left the baby, not capable of taking care of it; “…was playing a game he had never dared before”. However he seems to grow an obsession within himself that is the opposite. Tsotsi “rolled the dice and had his first win, and then dared the lot because he wanted more.” (p59, Tsotsi) Thus through the story, he slowly begins making honourable choices including from splitting from his gang and going back to Boston where he levels with him and learns about God. By this point Tsotsi “no longer had a desire for anything else except to know” (p204, Tsotsi).
Midway in the book, Tsotsi comes across an amputee beggar, Morris Tshabala, who insults Tsotsi and we see an example of Tsotsi choosing to do good instead of evil. He follows Morris thinking about retaliation then sees the beggar as a representation for what Tsotsi considers life to be – pointless. “He was a symbol of this precisely because he was bent, and broken, and so without meaning that other men had abandoned him. This was the final reality to life. Everything else was just rouge and lipstick on an ugly face.” (p101, Tsotsi) When Tsotsi finally corners his target, they both engage in conversation, and this in turn makes Tsotsi obsessed with learning more about Morris, especially when Morris expresses how much he wants to stay alive: “I say it after many years of thinking I was dead and tomorrow was nothing except maybe the day when the rest of me would be buried with the other pieces.” (p113, Tsotsi) Morris talks about the warmth of the ground in which he can still feel with his hands, as well as with the rain on his face. It is the vulnerability of this poor beggar that sparks something deep inside Tsotsi and shows him slowly but surely regaining his humanity through the choice to listen and learn.
The most dramatic choice Tsotsi makes comes at the end of the book. His decision to sacrifice himself to save the baby from falling wreckage is seals his destiny as a caring and moral man. He might not be able to stop the bulldozers from coming into the township but nevertheless he has beome now selfless and sympathetic to the plight of a life that has become so precious to him.
The plot of The Beach depends a lot on critical choices Richard, the main character, makes at various points in the film. However a lot of these choices see to involve a lot of luck or to be made on the spur of the moment with not much clear explanation in the film.
Choice is presented by director Danny Boyle almost immediately at the beginning of the film. The Beach opens with a voice over narration by the fim’s protagonist Richard, he clearly descibes himself as an opportunistic adventurer into the less known places of the world. Should a chance to do or see something unique ever come around he would choose it. He says “….never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience.”
While his choice to try a shot glass full of snake blood seems a bit pointless, the decision to go off in the search for a ‘paradise’ using a map left by Daffy who he has only known for a day and who committed suicide in a very violent way is essential for the film’s plot. So he takes himself and two French tourists, Etienne and Francoise, who he’s also just met on a journey to find this supposed Utopia of an island. Along the way, Richard makes another choice to create a copy of the map and give it to a bunch of American tourists, which he claims in voice-over narration, is a duty he is to uphold as a tourist: “…spreading news was part of a traveller’s nature.” This is not a difficult choice and isn’t made after a lot of thought or even for a very good reason but does lead to terrible consequences, for many other people, later in the film.
Possibly the best example of choice being important comes when the fisherman Cristo is mauled by a shark. After the islanders get sick of listening to his screams they take him into the forest and leave him there. In a voice over Richard says “out of sight, out of mind, once he was gone we felt a whole lot better” Only Etienne chooses to stay with Cristo and the contrast between his choice to hold onto his humanity while the rest of the commune are more concerned about playing on the beach shows how some choice define a person’s morality.
The film also shows two life or death choices but in both cases the decision seems to be made without much thought. First Richard has to make the decision to mercy kill Cristo after seeing he is dying of gangrene infection and will not be able to get off the island . Second when the dope runners offer the islanders the choice to either to leave the island, or kill Richard and stay. Richard shows no regret about killing Christo or even that it was a tough decision to make. Likewise Sal take a gun and is ready to kill even after Richard makes it clear to Sal that this time, the kill will happen right in front of the community, and not out of sight where they can forget about. Nevertheless Sal pulls the trigger, but the one bullet in the gun isn’t in the chamber.
In Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Henry V, choice plays an important role in forging the King’s destiny in a time of growing turmoil. Henry wants to regain his father’s lost land and to prove to his men and to God that he is worthy of claiming the throne of France. His choice is driven by his desire to be a better man than the usurper his father was. “No King in England if not King of France.” He asks of God to be his guide in the coming battles to see him and his men through, also giving thanks to him after the Battle at the end for fighting with them.
In Branaghs film there appears to be more at stake that just gaining land. The King wants to show his men what loyalty is all about, both to God and to their King. In the film Henry often finds himself making the choice to save a friend, or letting it go and ignoring it. In the middle of the film, Branagh presents his character with the opportunity to make a choice about the fate of some others and their choice has tragic consequences for them. Henry and his men cornered 3 men, all of which were secretly traitorous conspirators against the King. He tells them about an earlier situation where a wild drunk was shouting obscenities about the King. When the King asked them of what should be done about the drunk, they spoke for punishment, despite the King’s decision to let him go. He then presents them death sentences for their betrayal. Despite their pleas for mercy, the King turns their words against them: “The mercy that was quick in us but late by your own counsel is suppressed and killed! You must not, for shame, to talk of mercy!”
The night before the Battle of Agincourt, the soldiers seem uncertain about possible victory over the French. In this scene, King Henry makes the decision to adopt a disguise, and wander around the English camp. He chooses to do this in order to comfort his soldiers and also find out what they really think about the King. There he takes a disguise and talks bluntly with all of them, and they do the same with him. His choice to mix with his men as an equal has a profound effect on him and the next day before the battle, he makes it his choice to level with his soldiers, to let them know there will be glory for them should they live or die. “For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”
In the end, conflicts are brought to an end through a meeting for a peace settlement between the Kings of England and France. The Duke of Burgundy speaks of the horrifying war travesties that have come: “…ourselves and our children have lost…the sciences that should become our country, but grow like savages…that nothing do but mediate on blood…and everything that seems unnatural”, the King of France soon agrees to the settlement, also allowing his daughter Katherine to marry Henry, finally giving Henry a legitimate claim to the throne over France.
Overall all three texts emphasise that, with freedom of will, men and women have got to face and make difficult choices in life, even when the “right” choice is not clear. However in the film of The Beach it seems luck or chance plays a more important role and the director doesn’t make any real point about the importance of choice. On the other hand the book Tsotsi and the film Henry V show many examples of how people must play an active part in making their own destinies through the use of choice.
Whereas Tsotsi and Henry V, have much justification as to why these choices are made by characters in the stories. Henry V shows choice having to be made as a newly crowned King, and not letting friend or foe stand in the way of carrying out doing what is right as King. Choice in Tsotsi is presented through the actions of an evil but tragic character having a newborn responsibility that is thrust upon him in the form of a little baby. But the Beach differs. The Beach seems to emphasise choice based on when opportunity presents itself to someone who could be considered living for the moment. But when the choice is made, it’s simply a matter of ‘Let’s Go!’ rather than thinking what can come of it. These choices lead to less desirable outcomes, loss of hope, and even death.
The film also makes choice apparent through exposure to dire circumstances. Richard is exiled after Sal discovers he made a copy of the map. In his exile, Richard decided to dice with death on many occasions, messing with the armed dope runners, feeling like a King. At the same time, he is becoming insane, and even began to see the dead Daffy like a guide. While temporarily insane, he accidently plays a hand in killing the American tourists when they arrive at the dope farm. From there he snaps back and chooses to escape the island. “I tried to remember the person I used to be. But I just couldn’t do it. And so long as I stayed here, I’d never find him again.”
Parts 1 & 2 of Henry IV are used as strategic flashbacks in the film, showing us the kind of immature person that Henry was before the events of Henry V. We now bear witness to the new mature and responsible king. But here he may have lost kinder aspects of himself as he turns his back on his friend Falstaff. “I know thee not, old man.” A similar situation occurs where Henry’s old friend Bardolph is to be executed for robbing a church. Henry remembers in a flashback to his wilder days where Bardolph asked him “Do not, when you are king, hang a thief.” But Henry has responded “No. Thou shalt”. As King, Henry makes it his duty to uphold the law no matter if the culprit is a friend, and proceeds with Bardolph’s execution.
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