The film Tsotsi, directed by Gavin Hood, portrays how an individual’s childhood and experiences effect the individual’s psychological development in his struggle for redemption. The narrative centers on Tsotsi, whose name when translated, literally means “thug”- a nickname he has accumulated through his atrocity as gang leader. The opening scene of the film establishes a strong sense of direction for the story – a glimpse of a person rolling dice is shown, drawing attention to the archetype of the dice representing chance and having no control over what will happen. This reveals the context that Tsotsi’s life is more distinctly influenced by outside forces, rather than his own free will. Following this scene, Tsotsi is introduced on screen wearing a leather jacket – the same one he is seen wearing for the entirety of the film with the exception of the ending, confirming that what viewers see during that time is only an exterior, securely hiding his true identity that was formed by his childhood and experiences.
Gaining awareness about the major outside forces that influence the development of Tsotsi’s character in the past and the present are essential in understanding the reason behind his seemingly cold-hearted exterior. Tsotsi’s character is greatly developed by his interactions with his friends and family. His childhood without his parents has a significant effect on him, allowing him to be taught neither proper morals, nor how to behave with others. After their brutal murder of a man, Boston preaches Tsotsi, including him saying, “Jesus, Tsotsi. A dog? What about a dog” (Hood, 2005). The didactic tirade triggers a stream of muffled emotions in Tsotsi, who beats up Boston. After this incident, Tsotsi runs from his friends, and more importantly, himself. The frenzied expression revealed in the close up shot of his face not only expresses his id that caused the incident, but also clearly expresses his disappointment in himself acting the same way towards Boston, as his dad had to their dog when Tsotsi was younger. “Get out I said! Out damn it! Out you fucking dog” (Hood, 2005).
This metaphorical representation of Boston as a dog reveals Tsotsi’s lack morality throughout his childhood. Hood uses meaningful pathetic fallacy to portray the view that viewers should have on Tsotsi. The long shot emphasizes his insignificant effect over the controlling outside forces, and lighting illuminates the sky, while Tsotsi is still left in darkness; symbolizing his dark exterior. In addition to being strong influences that have caused Tsotsi to become who he is, his friends also aid him in his path to atonement. Tsotsi looks for redemption against such poverty-induced inhumanity in a place that seems to provide no possibility of doing so. However, such substitute, namely “decency” makes an appearance in an instructive manner, digging through to Tsotsi’s superego, as Sigmund Freud would suggest. Boston or “Teacher Boy,” who, true to his nickname, is the only gang member still possessing conscience, castigates Tsotsi for his wrongdoings, “Decency Tsotsi – Decency – Do you know the word” (Hood, 2005).
Viewers see glimpses of decency as described by Boston – making a living in a way that makes you respected – in Tsotsi as the film progresses, along with his character. This is seen when Tsotsi pays a final visit to Boston and leaves his gun with him – a symbolism of him finally revealing his true identity with no armor. Additionally, Tsotsi shoots Butcher, a character with whom he had many similarities with at the start of the narrative, revealing that he no longer shares those similarities with him. Therefore, Hoods use of outside forces further develops Tsotsi’s character. Furthermore, Tsotsi steals a baby in his attempt to steal a car from Pumla. At this point, the critical question stands: Can a small baby redeem a cold-hearted thug? Clearly, the baby plays a major role in Tsotsi’s development as a dynamic character in his path to redemption.
Tsotsi becomes occupied with caring for the baby as his pathway out of his odious life. To implement a psychological association to Tsotsi’s repressed humanity, Hood uses sentimental flashbacks. Tsotsi’s involvement with gangs is explained by Tsotsi’s harsh father who restricts him from seeing his ill mother. “You…stay away from your mother” (Hood, 2005). The baby serves as a representation of what Tsotsi has lost; revealed when he visits the baby’s room, and realizes what he has stripped from the baby. As the film progresses, Tsotsi develops a strong admiration towards Miriam, a female figure that he associates with his own mother, and therefore tells Miriam that the baby’s name is ‘David,’ the name he himself was given by his own mother. This is also revealed when Boston says, “Everyone has a name.
A real name from him mother” (Hood, 2005). Miriam reveals the Oedipal Complex at work in the film as Tsotsi revives memories of his mother’s affections. The ‘decency,’ that Boston continuously mentions, is finally revealed to be seen in Tsotsi when he finally hands the baby over to its parents. However, his reluctance to let the baby go symbolizes his fear in forgetting his past experiences and starting over, clearly emphasized by the depressing music, meant to tug at the viewer’s heart-strings, in contrast to the upbeat music played throughout the rest of the film. Here at the end of the film, Tsotsi’s surrendering to the police confirms that he is no longer seen as a ruthless killer, but as a man with decency. In doing so, Hood offers readers an association with Tsotsi, along with a clear insight of his struggle to redeem himself in a cruel world with little guidance from his childhood and past experiences.