The Power of One is a cinematic masterpiece which was based on the inspiring novel by Bryce Courtenay. Set in a world torn apart from racism; where man subjugates his fellow country man and liberty remains evasive. The director, John G. Avildsen has utilized a range of filmic techniques to depict to malevolence of racial prejudice. The protagonist of this film, PK is an English boy who is raised in a society plagued with racism.
In the beginning of this film, PK’s is narrating some events of his life; John. G starts the screenplay with PK saying, “I was born with the songs of Zulu rainmakers in my ears”. The first scene of the movie instantly lures the audience’s attention with PK’s adorable voice, blended with an indigenous African tune in the background. Furthermore; the introduction of PK’s dark skinned friend, who is sitting beside him and playing the ivory (white) and Ebony (black) keys on the piano is a strong dissimilarity witnessed by the audience.
Despite no racial scenes are presented in the beginning, it definitely sets the rest of the movie in pace with presenting one of the core themes of this novel, ‘the power of one’. Soon after his mother becomes disheartened after an emotional collapse, PK is sent to a hell like Dutch boarding school. This is where John. G begins to develop the setting of racism. PK’s voice is screen played to gain the sympathy from the audience, as he is portrayed as naive and excluded by the other students. As soon as PK arrives at the boarding school, he is enclosed by people who are racist and violent.
This is exposed when the Dutch priest promotes hate against the British who dominated them during the invasion; he says, “the English drove us into this wilderness but we returned stronger than before, by spilling their blood across the land because this land is ours given to us entirely by almighty God. It is our responsibility to rise up, push out the English and put down the black. ” This definitely gives the audience the impression that the Dutch were violent, prejudiced, selfish and dangerous considering PK is the only English student. This depiction of the Dutch immediately achieves the audience’s hate.
In addition the cruelty of the Dutch is exaggerated when Jobbie Botha, a senior student is shown to have a tattoo of the swastika on his arm which informs the views that he was supportive of Hitler’s actions. This technique was used by John to develop the psychopath characteristics of the main antagonist. PK is continuously portrayed as naive and defenseless when he is tortured in pitiful ways by Jobbie Botha. Some of these torture techniques exemplified by Botha include urinating and spiting on PK. Other torments include killing PK’s chicken and hanging PK upside down and pelting him with stones using a sling shot.
PK is also informed about his mother’s death in a ruthless way. All these factors contribute to viewers feeling extremely sad and disappointed whilst increasing the compassion for PK. On the other hand, the viewers are made to dislike the Dutch even more. As PK evolves from a young boy to a young man, he is portrayed to have good characteristics. The fine structure of this film increases the compassion that audiences have towards PK as this development occurs. PK also meets two people in his life, Geel Piet (dark skinned) and Doc (White skinned).
These two men have positive influences on PK as they help him develop physically and mentally. This is depicted when Geel Piet tells PK, “Little can beat big when little is smart. First with the head and then with the heart”. Doc tells PK that, “Any question you ever have, the answer you will find in Nature – if you know where to look, and how to ask and then you will have for yourself all the brains that have ever been”. Another important message PK receives from Doc is that, “a rainfall starts with a single drop”. Hence, this message relates back to the title and which is one of the core messages.
Even though the director has portrayed the Dutch as the antagonist through the film, he is also successful in informing the audience that not all the Dutch were coldblooded extremist. The victims, the African natives are shown to be treated mercilessly by the Dutch. The natives are forced live in their township; and are required to have a special permit which allows them to live there. The Africans are shown to be working in scorching conditions in a polluted environment with supervision by Africana officials. The natives called, “Kaffir” and humiliated in many ways. One incident is when Geel Piet is made to eat manure off a jailer’s shoe.
Immediately, the viewer is made to feel sad and have sympathy for Geel piet swell as hate the Dutch for their attitude towards the natives. Consequently, some of the natives are shown to be positive and enthusiastic people who want to make a difference for the future generations, a depiction of this is when the natives attend PKs English classes every night. In this scene, the director once again brings satisfaction and respect for the white as PK is shown to the teacher. This gives the audience the impression that, the natives had a lot of respect for the English as well as their culture.
An example of this is shown when the three different groups attend Maria’s funeral. However, it doesn’t end in a positive note as Maria’s father retaliates by confronting PK with a shovel, failing to release that his hatred and intolerance had his daughter killed. To conclude, the director uses a special selection of filmic techniques to present its central discourse. The director is also successful is displaying multiple messages. Furthermore, the film captures the audience through the personality of characters and their emotions; which definitely involves the viewer’s ethics and feelings.
Courtney from Study Moose
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