The film is based on a novel of the same title by a Nigerian writer, Uzodinma Iweala, who in turn borrowed that title from a song by renowned musician Fela Kuti.
The story is about a boy who is caught in a war in an African country – most probably a Western one – whose father gets killed by government forces who mop up a “buffer zone” village which has been caught between contending forces, the rebels and government.
The boy survives the attack and escapes into a forest where he runs into a rebel force which converts him into a child soldier – from an innocent boy to a murderer, and victim of an ugly war, at the same time, given the harrowing experiences that he goes through: the smell and sight of death and all other things in between, including being sexually abused by the charismatic rebel leader, Commandant.
The boy transitions from being a child to an adult, or at least as far as ghastly experiences are concerned, and back.
But he is never the same even when the end appears hopeful, as he wades into the sea to play with other boys.
Many pundits have agreed that for all the excellent psycho- social depiction of the boy, a metaphor for child soldiers, the larger story about the ravages of civil war is not adequately told.
Perhaps there has been more than enough literature to that effect, what with Africa being a hotspot for deadly coups and civil wars.
How these come about and who is to blame is a story for another day.
Yet, where one is expected to focus on the travails of the boy, Agu, a mind that is not acquainted to the grim realities of civil wars as often happen in West Africa, the general carnage depicted in the war that goes around the main actor is what grips the mind in an acutely disturbing manner.
This is where the disappointment of how the plot was handled stems from.
However, who can fault the mind, the subconscious, that layer of consciousness that sits deep and keeps fears and secrets, suddenly comes alive in form of a nightmare of carnage?
The war becomes one’s own, the suffering one’s own, and the victimhood one’s own as well.
What if the war is not about guns, and child soldiers and barbarous murderous but a silent – yet loud, war that engulfs the nation?
That is the power of the mind.
And that is a reality that can visit any nation under the sun especially so when there seems to be enough, and gathering, mounting evidence.
The beasts of Zimbabwe
There have been growing worries about factionalism within the ruling zanu-pf, which has as we speak lately peaked with the exchange of harsh words between top officials so much so that one newspaper, Daily News, in its usual excitability, this week speculated that it was only a matter of time before body bags started being delivered in the “seemingly unstoppable succession war in the post-congress zanu-pf”.
Of course, we all know that our friends from across town have been itching for a bit of drama that has remained elusive for a long time.
Only now, only lately, has something begun to appear to crystallise into something resembling a war, namely the verbal exchanges between the likes of War Vets Minister Cde Chris Mutsvangwa and Higher and Tertiary Education Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo.
The motif of this latest drama is about succession in the ruling party.
It is a trite point to make that the issue of succession and discussions around it have been with us for a long time and this is what got the likes of Eddison Zvobgo, Dzikamai Mavhaire (twice), Joice Mujuru, Rugare Gumbo, Didymus Mutasa and others expelled from the ruling party.
What is happening now is not exactly new: we have been down that road before.
The nasty plots and subplots.
The accusation and counter-accusations.
What may be particularly surprising at this juncture is just how zanu-pf has seemingly never given itself enough rest to start another episode of factional fighting.
We may recall that the expulsion of Joice Mujuru and company at the congress in 2014 did not end factional fighting as purges of her supporters continued and as if that was not enough, a subplot has developed pitting two sides and this has developed into something of a life on its own.
As we are seeing.
We may yet see the worst as the beasts of Zimbabwe take us for an interesting tale, a horrifying one even.
And so the aforementioned dreamer says they had had a nightmare of Zimbabwe plunging down a fratricidal cliff on a particular dark day.
He was the Agu and carnage happened all around him with him a victim being an actor and victim of a harsh war around him until he is raised on a stake, surprisingly, to be stoned by his own.
It is such a cruel nightmare.
It must be hard for the Agus of this world especially those that work in public places and from whom much is expected in a thankless world.
The wisdom of the ancestors, those autochthons of knowledge, have long told us about how grass suffers when two elephants fight.
You can imagine a child like Agu of the film wanting to live a normal life of playing games of childhood; of fantasy and courtship of young adulthood, like his brother who likes foreign music and chases after girls; and of adulthood that is not disrupted by a war in which you are duty bound to leave or send away your family so that you fight a war.
A war that you can win or lose, the latter situation separating you from your land and loved ones for ever.
In a world of dreams happiness and peace are achievable and ultimate.
In the world of of nightmares happiness and peace are unachievable.
It is the nightmare that is ultimate.
And haunts you for days, while you can imagine hearing the footsteps of beasts prancing about and around you: lurking.