By Afra Nariman
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)
Directed by: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Aïssa Maïga, Lily Banda
A true story about a gifted young boy named William (played by Maxwell Simba), living in a village in Wimbe, who has a passion for learning. Shortly after being expelled from his school for not being able to afford the tuition, his village begins to face famine. With political unrest and villages all over facing the same fate; William begins to sneak back into his school library to learn about ways he can make a difference in his village. He learns how to build a windmill that would be able to bring water to his village’s dried-up farmland and with the help of his community, he builds one and saves the village.
Chiwetel Ejiofor’s writing/directing debut did not disappoint. In The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, he tells us the unbelievable true story of a boy from an impoverished village who, against all odds, and through his passion for learning, saves his village from an imminent famine. This film explores the human-side of facing an existential crisis. It asks; At what length would you go to protect yourself and the ones you love, when facing a crisis that is openly threatening your life? That question is bluntly and beautifully answered by the family’s mother (played by Aïssa Maïga). In response to her daughter’s worries, following their family being robbed of all their saved-up grain, she says, “You think I’d let you starve to death? When I cut off my own arm to feed you, then you’ll know you’re my child.” This powerful statement by a mother who is fighting to protect her children from a very imminent threat of famine, speaks volumes to the overarching message of the film: Togetherness. At numerous points throughout the film, the theme of “staying together” is stressed both at the level of community (village) and family.
Although togetherness is an emphasized theme of the film, the story is really about William, a young man who is obviously intellectually gifted and has a passion for learning. At times, even in rebellion to the school who expelled him and his father who ordered him to stop worrying about school and books and to instead begin helping him farm during the days; William believed in his ability and he believed in the power of knowledge. There isn’t a problem in the world that the human mind can’t do something about…even when all the odds are stacked against you. With incredible confidence in himself and belief in his vision, William eventually builds a windmill that is used to convert wind energy into electricity, which helps power the water pump and bring water to their crops. He saves his village.
Through deep dialogue and argumentation between William and his father (played by Ejiofor), we witnessed a deeply profound philosophical lesson of humility. As human beings in general, we tend to overlook the value that children can bring to our lives. Many people believe that adults are here to teach children, who know nothing; and children can never teach adults anything. That was momentarily the case for the father-son relationship exhibited to us in the film when. William’s father discouraged him to continue developing his windmill, calling his prototype a “toy.” He was rightfully worried and stressed, unable to have hope in something he didn’t know would work. He was hellbent on saving his village and his family, but was hesitant and wary of putting his remaining hope and trust in both an abstract idea that their village had never seen before and in his son, who he viewed as “just a boy.” Against all odds and with a powerful level of belief in both himself and in knowledge, William succeeded. It felt like the entire film was leading to the end, where we see an emotional embrace between William and his father, highlighted by a monumental amount of pride in the way William’s father looked at him after what he had done for the village and his family. The respect was finally earned, not as a boy, but as a man. Every part of the film was paramount in the telling of this powerful and gradually evolving story.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind gave us a window to witness the day-to-day life of a family from an impoverished African village, who in midst of an existential threat, stressed the importance of family and togetherness. It was those values that were instilled in William, that resulted in him pushing through any and all obstacles standing in his way, making the decision to stay back with his family even though his friends left the village in hopes of finding a better place, and ultimately succeeding in doing something life-saving for those around him. This film tells us the story of a young hero, challenged by strife, who knew the importance of compassion and learning and put those two very important virtues to use. Ejiofor was brilliant on all fronts: acting, writing and directing. The film got better as it progressed and ended on a very powerful note. A great writing/directing debut for a great actor!