Evil comes in many shapes sizes, severity and intention. Evil can come from someone scorned, someone angry and abandoned. For every essay involving the characteristics of evil I have argued that to be evil is an intrinsic characteristic carved into a person’s DNA, a permanent reminder of the defining actions that will haunt them their entire life. I spent the first half of the movie despising Tsotsi and wishing ill on him for the horrendous actions he had taken. He killed, he stole, he threatened and he kidnapped and with each act I waited for the culminating evil that would finally make him snap. It didn’t come.
As Tsotsi began to care for this child, an innocent baby stripped from its mother, I began to question my own beliefs about this seemingly evil character. Tsotsi had harmed his own friend whom he referred to as his brother yet he stood there frantically brushing ants from the child’s head.
Decency is a common thread holding this movie together. It is this decency that I feel Tsotsi develops through the course of this traumatic story line. Boston, his friend, speaks of such decency which makes him ill after watching an innocent man die at his hands. Boston tries to explain to Fela that decency is not from the house you own but the respect you have for yourself. When Tsotsi stands with watery eyes clutching the child he has grown to love I can feel the decency in his heart. He didn’t want harm to come to this child, he wanted to be loved, to give love and to protect. Tsotsi was stripped of his opportunity to show his dying mother love and was not allowed to protect the dying dog from the foot of his father. Tsotsi gave the child the name his mother had chosen, David, and in that name comes respect for his mother and beyond that, comes decency.
Light may seem fleeting in the dark and dingy rust that lines the shacks and bridges of these communities but it is light that brings hope. With many similarities to decency, light holds the movie together in a sort of metaphorical eye opening way. The old man in the wheelchair speaks of who he lives for the light he feels each day. The physical limitations he faces do not stop him from reaching this light just to feel the warmth. Tsotsi for an inexplicable reason accepts this man’s reasoning and walks away from harming him.
In the shacks Tsotsi speaks with the woman who feeds the baby and inquires about her artwork. When Tsotsi enquires about the price of one glass chime type piece the woman says it costs fifty. With shock and disbelief Tsotsi asks why he would spend such outrageous money for broken pieces of glass on string but to the woman the glass is more than broken. The glass takes in light and shines beautiful colors all over Tsotsi illuminating the many colors and sides to this seemingly intrinsically evil character. This light shining on him may seem to be nothing more than a prop but I see the light as a moment of change in him. That artwork came from the woman’s happiness and Tsotsi’s own happiness is given to the child.
At times this movie was hard to watch; it elicits unpleasant feelings that people often shy away from but it also shows growth. This evil dictator of a man has accepted his flaws and literally taken in his mistakes to care for them. Tsotsi has shown that the love of his mother can overcome the societal norms of disrespect towards women and has allowed his heart to feel again. When the cops ask Tsotsi to put his arms above his head I believe he does it not because he is afraid of death but because he is finally free. He is free from his past and from the hardships of his childhood. Tsotsi is finally able to feel again and to accept his mistakes as his own without placing blame on his father’s abusive ways or his mother’s passing.
It is true that I still feel that evil is an intrinsic characteristic but Tsotsi is not evil. What he did was evil, what he did was malicious and without warrant but he himself is not an evil human. Tsotsi, David, just wants to be loved for who he is and not hated for what he does.