Powerful Film about Repression, Uprising, Courage and Transformation in Myanmar (Burma)
If you have heard ews about fledgling progress in Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi’s movement, watching this movie can help you understand what the fuss is about even though the film is classified as fiction, not a documentary. It’s a powerful movie anyway, but especially relevant now. It may help you understand the forces and political tides in which she works, and how difficult it must be to strive to do good in Myanmar when every step carries such deadly risks.
Laura is a medical doctor who has been psychologically shattered by finding her husband and son murdered. In an effort to help her get back on track, her sister has gone with her to Burma (now Myanmar) in a tour group. She is not really functional, just drifting through the tour in a haze of grief—when a small boy hurts himself a little, she cannot make herself tend to his injury. After following her curiosity about noise outside her hotel at night, she loses her passport at a political rally for Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi. She witnesses a heartstopping confrontation between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military. She has to stay behind awaiting a new passport when the tour group goes home. She becomes entangled with a pro-democracy uprising and the government’s crackdown on it., She and the leader of a group of rebelling students, U Aung Ko, travel through savagery and brutality across Burma to escape into Thailand. This movie is based on a true story.
A Bit More About It
When I first chanced upon this movie on television, I didn’t know anything about it, but it drew me in and had me on the edge of my seat the whole time.
Like many Westerners, I had been only vaguely aware that some kind of uprising happened in Burma and some woman there was a Nobel Peace Prize winner living under house arrest. But what hooked me wasn’t just the historical basis of the tale, or how it made that history vivid.
In the very best stories, people don’t simply go through ordeals or adventures—people are transformed by their experiences. That happens here, threaded through the tale. Both Laura and Burma/Myanmar are deeply crippled by their respective pain and in the throes of trying to cast off those shackles. As with any really good story, no one feature makes it engaging. The way all the elements weave together is what makes it work.
This is a captivating, disturbing, thought-provoking movie. It is best watched when you want something to challenge you, make you ponder big issues and shake you out of your complacency.
Side note: If the protagonist looks familiar, the actress is Patricia Arquette. You may be more familiar with her as a blonde, Allison DuBois in the television series Medium.
Aung San Suu Kyi and Opposition to the Regime
If you want a role model for peaceful resistance to oppressive authorities, you won’t find any better than this. She is in the same class as Mandela and Gandhi.
Desert Island Discs is a venerable BBC Radio 4 interview show. The interview revolves around the question of which music the person being interviewed would want to have if stranded on a deserted island. It can be fun. It can be interesting. It can move you to tears.
The most widely recognized leader of the opposition to oppression in Myanmar is Aung San Suu Kyi. Her quest has taken a deeply personal price from her and her family.
Her life’s work is in her blood. Her father also strove on behalf of their country.
The Movie on DVD
When this movie was first released, videotape was popular. You might not even have a videotape player any more. (We don't.) But you can get it on DVD now with better picture and sound quality. It's such a powerful movie, you may want it in your library… or if you're a teacher, you might want it for lessons. Keep reading to find out where to get materials to support lesson plans that revolve around this movie.
Using This Movie for Teaching
One caveat: Although I’m sure this movie does not show the very worst of what happened during the crackdown, it does not pull many punches. It contains attempted rape, killing in self-defense, and rampant violence. The story cannot be told without that, which makes it unsuitable for very young students. It is literally an unforgettable film. Only students old enough to grapple with heavy issues should see it as a study aid. But it is a potent launching pad for discussions about an array of serious topics.
One of the most potent scenes in this movie depicts a real event, Aung San Suu Kyi facing down armed soldiers in a stunning triumph of pacifism and sheer force of personality. This movie is a good basis for lessons about such topics as revolution, repression, pacifism versus force, and the Nobel Peace Prize. The learning guide helps teachers also discuss where historical truth ends and fiction begins, and guide classroom discussions.
If This Movie Makes You Want to Know More…
Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country
This feature length documentary was nominated for an Academy Award and consistently gets five star ratings from viewers. If you want to know more about what has happened since Beyond Burma, most of the footage in this film is from the 2007 uprising. The people of Burma/Myanmar have been struggling for decades and are still in the shadows.
Burma/Myanmar: What Everyone Needs to Know®
This is a great choice if you are looking for highly rated, concise, authoritative, up to date information about the situation in Burma, with historical and cultural context.
The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma
This is a very personal perspective, more focused on Burma's history than other materials. It's written by a senior UN official whose family goes back generations in Burma. Consistently well regarded and highly recommended by readers.
Finding George Orwell in Burma
George Orwell was an imperial policeman in Burma during the 1920s while Burma was under British rule. Orwell is widely regarded by the Burmese as a prophet. The author of this book says the Burmese now say Orwell not one novel about the country, but three: Burmese Days, Animal Farm and 1984. Readers rave about how well this book captures the essence of the country as well as exploring Orwell's connection.
Burmese Days: A Novel
Speaking of Orwell, Burmese Days was his first novel. People pay more attention to Animal Farm and 1984, but his mastery as a writer is there even in his first book.