Movies / Movie Reviews

Moffie (2019)


By Hervé St-Louis
June 7, 2022 - 08:45

Bi-national British and South African youth Nicholas is conscripted in the South African military during the 1981 conflict with Angola where young white men are trained into a masculine environment to hate the black majority in South Africa and beyond, so they can protect their homeland. Part of the initiation means rejecting homosexuality and demonizing anything gay. Nicholas attempts to complete his compulsory service while hiding his homosexuality that could land him in the infamous Ward 22, where gays are forcefully converted to heterosexuality, or condemned. Can Nicholas survive his ordeal in the military while falling for recruit Dylan?

Moffie is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by South African writer André Carl van der Merwe who chronicled his own time as a gay conscript in the South African military during Apartheid. Many people dislike the film because it does not have a Hollywood story arc where the protagonist comes to his sense about Apartheid and the regressive anti-gay regime, falls in love with his beau, rebels, and lives happily ever after. This film is not about that. It is a chronicle of indoctrination, war, and survival, while being a possible target. It also depicts camaraderie between the recruits who are trained to become monsters and killing machines. This is what the South African military did at the time. Other military do it less overtly, but they all seek to build a sense of fellowship between those recruits so they will die for one another and develop a cohesive unit that can fight any opponent whether the conflict is justified, noble, or not.

There are many movies that attempt coloured glass fantasies but this one is not about that. Although some aspects of the film changed the original novel and adapted the narrative for a movie, it is a literal representation of the harsh lives of some men that many consider despicable, and about the recluse outcast who chooses to hide instead of rebelling. Nicholas’s attitude is much closer to that of most people in his situation. A warning by a soldier returning from Ward 22 reinforces the need for him to stay hidden and avoid being sent to a ward where unethical experiments by medics and researchers tried to convert gays into straights by force, or similarly forcefully reassign their gender surgically as women, when some of them would not convert into “men”.

Some reviewers have claimed that the last arc of the film were allegories and fantasies. That did not really happen. They also interpret non-sexual close contact between two men, such as when the sergeant nods to Nicholas after his first “kill” as being sexual. This kind of misinterpretation of the movie are annoying and flawed. They attempt to find arousal and sentimentality where there is none. This is war. And then they attempt to submerge what is represented in the film with metaphorical interpretations when none are needed.

The movie’s cinematography uses approaches from the 1970s down to the film grain type to highlight this as a period piece. The movie goes for as much realism as possible, having the cast train for weeks together to develop the esprit de corps that one would have found in such times.

Sensitive viewers should probably abstain from watching this film. Some scenes involving black characters depict everyday Apartheid acts truthfully, neither glorifying the recruits, nor the oppressed black majority. There are some violence and challenging moments which come at unexpected moments.

Rating: 8 /10

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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