‘Man is a rational animal’……I had read and not understood this line when I was very young. My parents had explained it very patiently. Human beings can think and reason and that is what separates us from animals. That is what makes us behave differently from a pack of carnivores who will kill each other for prey, or creatures who eat their young to survive. This sentence had stayed with me for many years. Through my growing up years, somewhere deep down beneath layers of cynicism that was added with age and experience, lived the belief of man still being a rational animal. Watching this film has destroyed that belief.
Based on real experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, an American policewoman who served as a UN Peacekeeper in post war Bosnia, The Whistleblower is a story that will haunt you for a long long time. The film opens with a scene of revelry, of young people at a party. Two teenage girls are having a difference of opinion; the first one is trying to convince her friend to stay overnight so they can go somewhere together the next day, but the second girl, Raya, refuses and leaves the party. She gets home; her mother is upset at her for returning late and says she is free to stay out all night since she is 18 and legally of age. Raya walks out of the house the moment her mother slams the door to the bedroom. The mother rushes out on hearing the main door shut but it is too late. And in that split second, you get a sinking feeling of impending doom. The feeling intensifies when you see the two girls posing for photographs the next day, to make fake ids to get across the border.
Cut to Kathryn…she is divorced, her ex-husband has remarried and is moving away from Nebraska with her daughter. Her request for a transfer; a desperate attempt to stay close to her daughter, is rejected. She does not know how to keep her promise to her daughter, of seeing her soon. In the midst of this turmoil, her boss tells her about a special assignment that would take her far away but would pay huge amounts of money. The figure mentioned is unbelievable and she takes up the job in an effort to save enough to move close to her daughter. She takes up a position with the United Nations as a peacekeeper.
Thus she arrives in Bosnia, a land torn apart by ehtnic strife. Each day brings a new revelation; women beaten up at home; local men who refuse to treat them as equals, compatriots who do not bat an eyelid at the horror around and much more. She manages to find a sympathetic helper in a local Bosnian police volunteer and works relentlessly. Her diligence and perseverence finally pays off and creates history when a woman subjected to brutalisation and repeated attacks from her husband wins a legal battle. She gets noticed by higher authorities and is assigned to monitor international law in the region, specifically with regards to women.
A couple of tips leads her to a local bar which is a front for a brothel. She finds out that young girls caught trying to cross the border are brought to this bar and used in rampant sex trafficking. Her investigation leads her to discover sordid photographs of atrocities meted out to these girls and she is aghast to find that the men performing these acts are UN peacekeeping personnel, policemen and officials from a private millitary contractor. She is warned and threatened but does not give up the pursuit of trying to bring these people to justice. She is eventually dismissed from service without a notice.
The story revolves around Kathryn’s fight for justice for the girls who the rest of the people treat as ‘whores of war’. Does she win? Do the girls get free? Where is Raya in all of this? Watch the film to get these answers. But there are many questions that do not get answered. United Nations is revered as the Holy Grail in international relations and human rights; how can its officials be involved in sex trafficking? Do senior UN officials really turn a blind eye to this because the truth would make a lot of powerful people uncomfortable? How can girls be treated worse than cattle? How does a parent protect a child? What is the value of a human life? I know a lot of people will say this situation exists in many countries that have been been victims of ethnic violence. Does that make it acceptable? Not so in my eyes. As a woman, it is painful to watch this in film; walk out of the theatre after 2 hours and make attempts to get back to normalcy. Maybe, somewhere during the film, you will also understand why I felt human beings have thrown off the cloak of rationality and have come to the same platform as animals.
The original Kathryn Bolkovac when interviewed said she was taken aback with the casting of her character since she is a broad built, strong, sturdy, 6 foot woman whereas Rachel Weisz who plays her, is slim, petite and almost fragile in her looks. But Rachel Weisz deserves a 21 gun salute for pulling off a stellar performance. Her sensitive and understated potrayal of Katherine will win her many awards for sure.
Copyright © Tara Verma October 2011
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