Theological Analysis of Cry, the Beloved Country Book and Film

Subject: Art
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 4
Word count: 1279
Topics: Film Analysis, Book, Human Nature, Theology

The novel, Cry, the Beloved Country, was written by Alan Paton in 1948, and was later adapted into a film directed by Darrell Roodt in 1955. Both the book and the film feature the same story of two fathers from the two racial and political divides of blacks and whites in South Africa, brought together in unity and forgiveness by the fate of death.  The film, though short at only 106 minutes, has tried to summarize carryon board all the core elements of the book as much as possible, while accentuating the screen presentation uniquely to certain extents. Both the book and the film play the role of depicting the role that theology and faith plays in the lives of those living in South Africa under Apartheid. Nevertheless, this discussion holds that the film plays a better role in depicting the role played by theology and faith in those living in apartheid South Africa, compared to the book. 

The opening of both the book and the film gives a description and depiction of the vast, beautiful and inevitably barren landscape of the rural South African village in Natal. However, while the book gives a detailed description of the landscape, the film accentuates the landscape view with a gloomy voiceover that is accompanied by a local Zulu somber music that sets the mood for the rest of the film. The image of a young girl carrying a letter up her hand and running down the hills towards the church infers the theological concept of goodness. The girl runs until she comes to the house besides the church, where she knocks and hands over the letter to pastor Kumalo. Biblically, a child is a symbol of everything good, and through this girl’s child, the themes of obedience is depicted. However, the film goes a notch higher to depict other theological principles of goodness in a way that the book has not. The manifest of these concepts occurs especially in the film visually depicting how kindness and respect are manifest in the way the girl delivers the letter and responds to the preacher with shyness and reverence under his South African title of honor, ‘umfundisi. 

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The book, on the other hand, plays the more important role of depicting the theological concepts of fear and faith, right starting with the delivery of the letter, where Pastor Kumalo and his wife fear opening and reading the letter, for the fear of what the message might entail. The wife clearly states “how we desire such a letter, and when it comes, we fear to open it” (Paton, 5). Fear is a fundamental concept that has worked against faith, even for the preacher and his family. Both Pastor Kumalo and his wife have lost faith in ever receiving news about their son, and they demonstrate the same through agreeing that the letter could not be from their son, Absalom. Fear has overcome the faith that the Pastor and his wife should be demonstrating as the lead church authorities, and instead, fear rules every of their thought and action. Kumalo’s wife has completely given up on ever seeing her son again, and she states it clearly by saying “when people go to Johannesburg, they do not come back” (Paton, 7). 

Additionally, the book also depicts the transition and faith nurturing period of James Jarvis in the duration between their return to the village and the execution of Absalom more clearly and elaborately. The book helps in understating the conversion of Jarvis into a man who believes in, and supports the church with great generosity. Jarvis’ point of remorse, regret and self-realization especially occurs while reading Arthur’s script which stated “I learned all that a child should learn of honor and charity and generosity. But of South Africa, I learned nothing at all” (Paton, 174). On the other hand, the film has, to a certain extent, fallen short in developing this concept. The film has also fallen short in building up emotions leading to the ultimate forgiveness and joining of hearts of the two fathers in the story, compared to the books narration. 

Nevertheless, the movie has done better than the book in the depiction of two fundamental theological concepts. First, the film has captured the most significant theological concept of film, which is transformation and change of heart, through focusing and allocating more time to demonstrate the entire process of James Jarvis encounter with the death of his son, which transformed him from the previously unkind white supremacist to the much warm and generous character he becomes towards the end of the film. Indeed, the film does a very good job in underlining the transition both at Arthur’s office and at the boy’s club. At Arthur’s office, the audience is able to see the expressions of surprise and awe building upon James Jarvis face as he reads the manuscript in his son’s office, which made him come to a realization that he really did not understand his son. Similarly, the film has dedicated a fairly uneven amount of time to the Claremont African Boys’ Club scene, where James Jarvis visited the club as a part of a journey towards trying to understand his son. The film shots bring to the main frame the curious look and fascination of James Jarvis when he is observing the pictures of his son with the black boys. The film shots at this scene also ensures to keep James face on the main frame as his face lightens up in the course of the secretary at the boys club explaining to him how his son has done many things for the black boys, and immediately, a look of pride and satisfaction ensues. 

Secondly, the film has a great impact in its depiction of the theological concept of justice in the final scene of the movie, compared to the book. In the final scene, the movie depicts the hanging of Absalom visually, thereby depicting the actual implementation of justice in a physically and visually identifiable, as well as s strongly emotionally connectedness manner. Further, the final scene of the movie takes the whole concept of prayers and faith in God to a whole new level compared to the depiction in the book. In the book, the final scene is characterized by the monotony of Kumalo’s meditation, but the monotony has been clearly broken in the film, where the final scene simultaneously carries along the visual representation of Absalom’s hanging alongside the powerful and strongly worded voiceover of Pastor Kumalo’s agony and suffering at the very moments of his son’s death.  The combined presentation of the visual hanging with the agonizing voiceover in the film works towards building a very strong emotional connection towards the Kumalo’s suffering, in a way that could not be possible to do through the book’s narration.

In conclusion, the Cry, the Beloved Country book and the film feature the same story of two fathers who are brought together in unity and forgiveness by the unfortunate fate of their sons. The book plays the more important role of depicting the theological concepts of fear and faith, while the film centers more on the theological principles of goodness, transformation and change of heart and the concept of justice. Nevertheless, while each genre has succeeded in the presentation of their key theological principles, the film plays a better role in depicting the role played by theology and faith in those living in apartheid South Africa, compared to the book.

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  1. Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1987. Print. 
  2. Roodt, Darrell. Dir. Cry, the Beloved Country [dvd] (1995). [Film].
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