My Thoughts on ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’
By Veronica Nkwocha
‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, the movie directed by Biyi Bandele and adapted from the book by the same name by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a story of two lovers who find themselves caught up in more than the regular mundane trifles that would otherwise concern those in their same situation.
The normalcy is captured quintessentially at the care free start, where Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) worry about things we see across time and across climes; does he/she love me enough, affairs that break the heart, and mothers-in-law who are frightened of the new woman.
We are introduced early on to an archetype angry mother-in-law (Onyeka Onwenu), a cheating boyfriend and a woman in despair and we have a recipe for what obtains quite frequently in Nollywood movies. Same ingredients but tempered as the particular conflict between mother and would be daughter-in-law did not overwhelm. The story was laced with more depth as the characters flowered and found themselves. HOAYS also takes more risks allowing the audience a peek into a wider range of interactions, the scenes move in quick succession. It sits resolute in a time period, the near picture perfect setting transports the viewer giving integrity to the story.
The serious but optimistic doctor of ‘books’ Odenigbo (a university professor), his returnee beautiful girlfriend Olanna, her twin sister Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) and her English boyfriend, Richard (Joseph Mawle) and their academic friends including Ms Adebayo (Genevieve Nnaji), enjoy some happy evenings discussing politics, wine, romance etc, laughing heartily and showing an optimism for the future. Ugwu (John Boyega) the houseboy trailed, never quite commanding the presence he had in the book, not a fault of the actor but more likely the adaptation.
The pacing allowed one momentarily forget that a war loomed. When the conflict that introduced ‘Biafra’ inserted itself violently into the narrative, it came as a shocking intrusion especially with the brutality shown. It drove home a well-known fact in wars; that those who are killed and those who suffer are the innocent, caught up in a gladiatorial contest far removed from their control. Swept along, we follow Olanna and Odenigbo on a journey through their pain and fears and heart-racing; through their triumphs served in small measures, tepid in parts but overwhelming in its intensity.
The gore that typically crowds war movies was nuanced and the flashbacks in black and white, documentary-like, gave a background to the story and fleshed out the narrative. The choice not to use real life actors but archived footage lent a stamp of authenticity of a real life war, it gave a sombre bent to the story taming the after-glow of the happy love story.
HOAYS portrayed the Nigerian Civil War with a delicate balance, walking a tightrope in a story of a two sided conflict of nervous protagonists and antagonists even in today’s Nigeria where a collective amnesia is the seeming default position, a shroud that never quite covers the ‘why’ of the story, barely there but the elephant in the room.
We are held curious to the end. The hunger for more lingered at the end, not only because Kainene was lost, an unending thread tying her to the hearts of her loved ones. Odenigbo and Olanna were brought to life by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton so strongly.
One must not forget Odenigbo’s blue car, it became iconic meandering here and there dodging bombs by sheer luck and nothing else.
The story was told in the second half in ‘quickened’ succession, we raced along as they raced for their lives and arrived at the credits breathless yet wanting more.