In a Sudanese civil war that lasted from 1983 to 2005, over 20,000 Sudanese children (mostly boys) of the Dinka and Nuer tribes became displaced and orphaned. Many traveled nearly 1000 miles on foot risking their lives to make it to The Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya where some of them where later sponsored by American families to provide them with new lives in the United State. The Kakuma Refugee community dubbed the refugees “The Lost Boys.” The Good Lie is a tale that chronicles the lives of the Deng family, four brothers and a sister, in their struggle to remain a family unit and survive the war-ravaged region.
The Deng family are seemingly a happy family within their native surroundings. Hailing from a family of farmers, the young Deng boys, Daniel, Jeremiah, Paul, Mamere, and Theo play and fight together, not unlike the average American family in Brooklyn, New York, or Boise, Idaho. On one particular day young Abital Deng, the lone sister amongst a host of boys, climbs a tree and notices hostile forces en route. What ensues is an attack on their small village which results in the death of the Deng parents. In the The Good Lie, the Deng children flee the village and embark on a perilous journey to seek asylum in any country that will harbor them.
Along the way, the dehydrated but still able-minded siblings lose their brother Daniel and resort to drinking their own urine to survive. With each sip they each recite, “I want to live. I do not want to die.” They bury their brother and move on, dodging and escaping genocidal fire, and learning to tap into drinkable water from below the parched surface of the African soil.
Finally, after hundreds of miles are gained on foot, Mamere beseech’s their older brother and protector, Theo, to stop for a rest since they have not heard enemy fire after many miles. Theo agrees and the siblings lay down in a field to sleep. Theo later awakens to find enemy gunmen nearby. He orders his siblings to stay down as he arises with his hands up to make sure that he alone is seen by the gunmen. The gunmen abduct Theo as his remaining siblings understand that he has forfeited his own life to save them. They endure onward until they finally reach The Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. The Deng siblings remain in the Kakuma camp for 13 years before they receive word that they have been chosen to come to Kansas City, USA to be sponsored by American families who will help them find work and further their education if so desired.
In The Good Lie, the elated siblings say their goodbyes to fellow refugees and board their flight to the United States. Once in Kansas City, the Deng’s are informed that their sister Abital must be re-routed and taken in by a Boston family because there is no family in Kansas City to sponsor her. The Deng brothers and Abital say their grievous goodbyes and embark on a new life without her. When the assigned chaperon is unable to pick up the Deng brothers, they are met at the airport by Carrie (Reese Witherspoon), a slightly insensitive employment counselor, who takes on the burden of chaperoning the brothers to their new home.
After a bit of acclimation the Deng brothers finally begin to settle into life in their new environment. The moving staircase at the airport is a first for them, as are telephones, automobiles, supermarkets and animal farms without nearby lions. Soon enough they find employment and become productive inhabitants of the United States. In the process, the ignorant and insensitive Carrie becomes acclimated to the Deng brothers and their unique challenges. She soon enough realizes that the separation from their sister has a far more deeply seeded emotional effect on the Deng brothers than she ever imagined.
In The Good Lie, Paul is introduced to marijuana by American co-workers, and begins to lose himself in the new surroundings that he is coming to resent. He also finally unleashes a harbored resentment towards his older brother Mamere for the loss of not only Abital, but the loss of Theo. He insists that if Mamere would not have asked Theo to stop for a rest, that they would all still be together. Tempers flare and the two adult siblings come to physical blows.
After searching the internet and coming to understand the traumatic Deng family history as Sudanese refugees, Carrie embarks on a quest to help bring Abital back to her brothers. In the process she is forced to alter aspects of her own environment for the better.
The Good Lie is far more profound than what has been provided in the promotional trailer which feels more like a Sudanese answer to The Blind Side. However, such is not the case with The Good Lie. One would have to wait until the very end of this film to realize how the title was spawned. Via the trailers viewers may have been under the impression that The Good Lie is more about Carrie’s experience, but such is hardly the case. The Good Lie is the chronicling of a horrendous journey endured by a group of innocent children. Carrie’s part in this film is noteworthy and certainly a catalytic means to the finale, but remains a side-story as it relates to the profound Deng chronicles.
Beautifully written by Margaret Nagle, The Good Lie comes to the big screen courtesy of Ron Howard and Brian Grazer along with a host of other producers and executive producers who should all be applauded for this absolutely beautiful and insightful story. Nagle has also penned a new screenplay that has just been announced called The Lost Boys of The Sudan. Prior to The Good Lie most of Nagle’s work has been on television. She can now certainly look forward to more feature film projects.
Reese Witherspoon shines in her role as the nonchalant, and somewhat aloof Carrie. Albeit a previous Academy Award winner, Witherspoon’s prior roles have always been lackluster and tepid. Her role as Carrie is subtle, solid and redemptive. She can be seen in the upcoming 2014 film Wild to be released on December 5. Perhaps Wild will mark a continuum of her redemption. Corey Stoll (who can also be seen in This Is Where I Leave You) also graces the film in a warm and believable role as a colleague who assists Carrie with the Sudanese siblings.
The Good Lie opened yesterday in wide Release. It runs for 110 minutes and is rated a family friendly PG13. Families should indeed be encouraged to attend together.
Opinion and Review By Janet Walters Levite