“Why are you still here, if you’re living like a dog?” – Paraphrased by Tsotsi
Growing up in the slums is not an easy thing to do and watching the struggle of those in poverty while I watched this film, Tsotsi, in my bed and on my MacBook laptop, brought tears to my eyes. This quote I’ve paraphrased from the protagonist of the film describes the view that he has on living. “It’s a dog’s life” he says. He was speaking to the older, crippled man he ran into at the station one night who had scolded him for not looking before he walked. Tsotsi, being an aggressive character, followed this man into the alley and behind abandoned buildings to shake him down. It was in the moment when Tsotsi looked into the elder man’s eyes and realized that he had no decency as a man. The fear was as crystal clear as the broken glass besides his feet.
Throughout this film I was trying to figure out where Tsotsi came from and why he behaved the way he did.
Was it hereditary or was it an influenced by his environment?
Was he genetically made to obtain such a violent personality, or was it the way he was brought up?
As the plot unfolded, I found out that Tsotsi had been raised by an abusive father but also by a loving mother. Once she fell ill the dynamic of the household changed. It seemed as though they knew she did not have much time left and so the father began drinking which led to his aggression. David, Tsotsi’s real name, was a scared child and without his mother could not handle defending himself against his father. He took off that night after his father had kicked their dog so hard he snapped it’s back. After watching the poor animal crawl outside of the house, Tsotsi knew he no longer belonged there. There would be a better life out there waiting for him.
Years later when he was grown, he took on many of the attributes his father had. He was a violent adolescent and not someone to pick a battle with. His strength was obvious, but his pain was even more apparent. My interpretation of the film was of his struggle to fight for the family he once had. After running into some trouble and stealing a rich, black woman’s car, Tsotsi was in deeper than he would have anticipated. There was a baby boy in the back seat. Unlike many heroes, Tsotsi did not give the baby back – right away. He took it upon himself to care for the child so that he would not get arrested or even killed by the family he robbed. That was his dog’s life; robbing, killing and gambling. This baby was different, however, this baby boy shone a light to the darkness in his life.
The filmmakers of Tsotsi captured wonderful shots of the townships and the sadness of people living in them. Although the film created an element of melancholy, it wasn’t until the end where the feeling of sincerity filled my soul. Tsotsi had decided to give the baby he had stolen back to the rightful family and in doing so, gave up his life of being a dog. He no longer held the hate he used to carry on his back. He lifted his arms, he lifted them above his head, and as he was being arrested you could see that the tears trickling down his cheek were tears of something new. They were tears of a new life he would one day own.
I hope that whomever is reading this takes the time to watch this film. It shows you poverty, it shows you strength, struggle, sadness, clarity and it shows you faith in humanity. Bad people aren’t born bad. They just need to find their way back to the good and sometimes it only takes a few small fingers clutching yours to change a life.