Untitled Document

Friends and Foes
Blood Diamond. Dir. Edward Zwick. Warner Bros., 2006.
Jieun Baek | Spring 2007

After seeing Blood Diamond, I was swept up in a rush of strong emotions, like most others who have seen this movie about the inhumane atrocities stemming from conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone. Alongside those emotions was the urgent drive to take action, to do something to make a difference. I was forced to face the reality of extant child soldiers as I watched ten year-old children drastically transform into miniature soldiers who barely understood the capacity of the power their guns yielded. I had access to a desperate parentís heart for a split second when I listened to Solomonís gut wrenching cries, demanding to know where his son was while clinging onto the fence of the refugee camp. Images of a nation rife with poverty, killing, rape, and political chaos led me to wonder how outsiders could possibly be of aid.

The ending text of the movie tells us that today, Sierra Leone is at peace. Many nations have taken action against the trade of conflict diamonds. But alongside the hopeful news, the film also presents the stark facts still remaining. There are still 600,000 child soldiers in Africa. Many are still homeless and lack access to food and water. What can we do to help in such situations? Not only in Africa, but in any humanitarian crisis?

There are certainly many who propose solutions of activism and intervention after watching such a film. But in this review, I would like to illuminate a particular aspect of the movie that is slightly less obvious, but is applicable to Christians and non-Christians alike. Even in the midst of endless chaos, where refugee camps contained millions at a time and militias ran the country, Blood Diamond repeatedly emphasizes the importance of the unbreakable connection that people share in relationships, whether it is friendship, romance, or family.

Danny Archer is a money-driven smuggler who will stop at nothing to find a certain “blood diamond,” an incredibly rare stone named for its rosy tint. He crosses paths with Maddy Bowen, a journalist who initially irritates him with her ideals of making a difference and stopping the bloodshed over diamonds. Danny harbors no hope for the war-torn continent that is his home. He and Maddy are forced into an uneasy partnership so that they can each get what they want — the blood diamond, and a primary source for an explosive news story. As the movie progresses, they begin to develop something beyond a pure business relationship. Her persistent journalistic questions turn personal, and Danny begins his path towards redemption by telling her about his tragic past and how he became so cynical and jaded. This does not resemble a typical romance story where a man is redeemed through a woman’s love. Rather, it is about how one human being can change another by caring, listening, being persistent and not giving up on that person.

Solomon Vandy is an average commoner, a fisherman who desires little in life other than the happiness of his family and a bright future for his children. We can easily see the depth of his love for his family from the beginning of the movie, and that there is an especially strong bond between him and his young son Dia. Their lives are thrown into turmoil when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) raids their village. Solomon is forced to mine diamonds, and Dia is made into a child soldier. Solomon by chance finds a blood diamond, and buries it right before the mine is attacked by government forces and he is rounded up as a prisoner. Later, he reluctantly agrees to help Danny Archer find the diamond in exchange for Danny’s offer to help find his family.

Solomon grows ever more desperate as the film progresses, repeatedly risking his life in reckless attempts to locate his son. Even though Danny repeatedly tells Solomon that they will never run across Dia, he is tortured by the thought that his son could be with any group of rebels they encounter. When he finally finds his son, the boy has already been thoroughly indoctrinated by the RUF, and shouts at his father, “I don’t know you! I hate you!” Still, in the midst of heartbreak, Solomon continues pursuing Dia, believing he can win his son back.

The clearest picture of the resilience of familial love is the scene where Solomon looks Dia right in the eye as the boy points his gun directly at him. The father gently and lovingly reminds his son of his childhood, his family, his mother who misses him so much, and how he is still a good boy. Solomon repeats that even though the RUF “made him do bad things,” his father still loves him very much. As the two embrace over tears of forgiveness, reunion, and remorse, the father’s love has won over the son.

Solomon’s love for Dia also plays a part in transforming Danny. As they climb a mountain, ready to escape by plane, Danny stops and cannot go on because of the pain of his injuries. He sees Solomon and Dia, father and son, gladly reunited. Then he asks to see the diamond, which he has not laid eyes on up to this point. He is finally able to hold it in the palm of his hand, grasping that which he had fought so hard for. But he gives it back to Solomon, signifying he has finally learned a core lesson of this film — life and love are infinitely more precious than a one hundred karat stone. It is too late for him to save himself and the two others at the same time, so Danny decides to stay on the mountain and hold off the militia while Solomon and Dia get on the plane. Solomon is able to be reunited with his family because of Danny’s final, selfless act. Danny Archer—the hardened, ruthless smuggler who would lie, kill, cheat, and deceive to find one more diamond — finally recognizes the worthlessness of the riches he has spent his life pursuing in light of the people he has met on the way. In his last few minutes, he calls Maddy and tells her he feels fortunate that he met her. As he takes his last breath, he appears peaceful after a lifetime of hardship, suffering, and causing suffering for others.

The contrast of values that emerges in Blood Diamond illuminates the difference between pursuing worldly wealth at any cost and the markedly different route of loving others at any cost. It is not always a clear-cut tradeoff, but the film illustrates it in an exaggerated form. In one of the final scenes, Solomon hands over the one hundred karat diamond to a company executive without even glancing at it, and immediately turns to embrace his family with joy.

There is copious literature on how we should take action to help people in dire need. But before we look across oceans and nations, perhaps we need a reminder first of the importance of people right around us. This film reminds us that riches, power, and prestige come and go. What will remain after our “diamonds” dent and discolor? Our friends and family — those closest to us who have shaped who we are, and whom we often take for granted.

Before his death, Danny intimates to Maddy: “I’m really glad I met you.” Living in this whirlwind that is the Harvard experience, it is easy to relegate good friends and family members to a lower priority, and we might not often think about how precious it is to have others by our side. Hopefully we can find peace in the response we might receive from others, as Danny received from Maddy: “I’m really glad I met you too.”


Jieun Baek ‘09 is a Government concentrator in Pforzheimer House.