The Truth Behind The Good Lie

I really don’t know why Reese Witherspoon’s face takes up half the poster. This movie is about the refugees… Don’t be fooled.

Another important movie for the school books and another one you probably haven’t heard of. It’s certainly a story that lit a fire under my ignorance. In 1987 Sudan was plagued with war, killing countless people and orphaning thousands more. The Good Lie is a story based on those orphans, following a few young survivors who learn at too young an age that living can come at a very high cost.

Move over Wild, there’s a new hiking movie in town. After a vicious attack on their home in Sudan, a group of children leave their village to seek shelter and safety in Ethiopia. After walking for miles and miles with nothing save for the clothes they wear, a metal bowl, and a bible, the children discover that Ethiopia is not a safe haven after all. Turning their sights on Kenya, those still alive walk hundreds of miles more in a different direction to finally wander into a refugee camp. Thirteen years later and now in their late teens/early twenties (no one knows their exact age) the group finally get the chance to leave the camp and build new lives in America. They must find jobs, earn an education, and keep each other safe in this new, foreign world – wait. Hold the fort. “Foreign” doesn’t quite cut it here. In Sudan they starved. In America stores donate “expired” food to the dumpster. In Sudan they slept in grass fields. In America there is an alien object known as “ice”. Like moving from Mercury to Pluto, these kids are essentially removed from one planet and thrown onto the next with little more than a map and a questionable bowl of green Jell-O.

A gecko would see Siberia the same way these refugees see America: everything is big, the people keep strange habits, and hanging out with nature isn’t a common pastime. The actors who play Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jal), and Abital (Kuoth Wiel) are either Sudanese refugees, children of refugees, or former child soldiers. The Good Lie is moving because the tragedy comes from a real place. You feel as if the actors are telling their personal stories because, in a roundabout way, they really are.

This is not a film to watch without Kleenex. War is terrible whether there are dramatic re-enactments or not, but in The Good Lie you see kids gunned down and family members lost. You face the reality of child soldiers, wade through cultural barriers as thick as marshland, and listen to remarkable stories of survival from the wilds of Africa with little to no warning or preamble:

“I was mauled by a lion.”

… What?

“He took my brother.”

Um… Yikes. Sure puts my first world problems in perspective.

Building new lives in America means leaving the old ones behind. The film is peppered with random flashes of the life lost in Sudan and thus succeeds in mixing feelings of nostalgia with a demonstration of how different two lifestyles can be. The Good Lie is extremely effective in showing how alien the modern world must feel to these refugees. Polite inquiry from the Sudanese may sound insulting to Western ears, and adorable nicknames such as “Great White Cow” don’t quite translate as well as you’d think. Carrie (Reese Witherspoon) is on the receiving end of most of these awkward interactions. We learn as she does that comments like, “No wonder you don’t have a husband,” aren’t meant as insulting but are just part of the social divide which separates two cultures by something greater than ocean or land.

The Good Lie touches on a lot of problems with The System. We can’t save them all and recent regulations have made it harder to save a few. To me, this movie did not feel like a worshiping of charitable Americans. In fact, it felt like nearly everyone with an office job stumbled over iron-tight rules that kept their hands resolutely tied. In the end we discover that what’s right and what’s legal don’t always amount to the same thing. The Good Lie is a must-see because it shows another side to the world we know. It shows us something we may not want to see but should be keenly aware of nonetheless. Grab the tissues, key up Wikipedia for quick fact-checking, and settle in for a 9/10 shocking learning experience.

The Good Lie trailer.

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