Released in 2006, Tsotsi is a film which accurately portrays the differences between life in Johannesburg, South Africa and the surrounding ghettos. Tsotsi is approximately 94 minutes long and was directed by Gavin Hood. The main character in this film, Presley Chweneyagae, is a tsotsi (thug) living in the ghettos outside of Johannesburg where he does anything possible to make money and stay alive. The movie is very violent and somewhat disturbing, especially in the beginning half.
The movie begins with Tsotsi and his three friends looking for trouble and money in the local train station. They find a man who is obviously wealthy and buying lavish scarves and follow him onto the train. The four men surround him and quietly demand his money. When the older man declines to give up his money, Tsotsi stabs him in the abdomen with a long, homemade knife causing his death. The young thug’s three friends are in shock in the next scene since Tsotsi actually killed the man for his money. One of his friends, Boston, confronts him in a local bar later that night and Tsotsi beats him up badly due to Boston’s insults about his family.
Tsotsi finds himself alone and not wanting to spend time with his accomplices in crime, so he goes out to find money on his own. He travels to a district in Johannesburg full of mansions and fancy cars where he sees a woman standing outside of her car in the rain, trying to open the gate to enter her estate property. The young thug approaches her and shoots his handgun at her while stealing her car. He speeds off, driving erratically, and eventually crashes the fancy car into a sign and ditch, rendering it useless. He is about to run off when he hears a baby cry. Tsotsi looks in the back seat and sees that there is an infant whom he must now care for. He puts the young child into a paper bag along with food and money and runs for his shack in the ghetto.
The young man who had no responsibilities in the past now finds himself with a baby. He thinks he has killed the baby’s mother, so he must now care for the baby. Tsotsi hides the baby from his friends so they do not think he is soft and weak. The baby eats canned food and sleeps in the shopping bag until Tsotsi realizes he is not doing a good job caring for the child. He looks out of his shack’s window and sees a young, single mother who seems to take good care of her baby. Tsotsi follows the young mother to her house and pulls his gun on her. He enters her house and demands that the woman feed and clean his newfound baby. She does so with tears in her eyes, but when Tsotsi returns the next day, she starts to accept the baby and offers to keep her.
At this point, Tsotsi realizes that he is not living a good life. He flashes back to his childhood several times throughout the movie, giving viewers a glimpse of the circumstances which made him so violent and cruel. The thug’s mother was dying of the unknown disease, AIDS, and his father was a raging drunk who liked to beat his family and pets. Tsotsi was forced to watch his father kick a young family dog repeatedly, breaking the dogs spine and leaving him to die. Tsotsi ran away from home and his abusive father where he lived in a concrete pipe with other homeless children. The young man returns to this spot several times throughout the movie to look at where he came from and analyze where he is going in life. He realizes that his father was a bad man and that he has come a long way since running away from home. Tsotsi starts to change for the better at this point, vowing to take care of the baby and to make things right in his life.
The first thing Tsotsi does is apologize to Boston. He tells Boston that he has always been there for him in the past and that he made a mistake by beating him up. Boston ends up moving into Tsotsi’s shack and sleeping in his small bed while recovering. The young man then sneaks over to see his baby and the baby’s temporary mother where he offers her money and strikes up a genuine conversation about her life. They both realize that they are alone in life except for their small children, and become friends in a way. While viewers of this movie start to feel that Tsotsi is a better person, he still has one more act of violence left in him. The four young men return to the woman’s house where Tsotsi stole her car and baby, and attempt to rob the house. They do not know that the woman’s husband is home from visiting his paralyzed life in the hospital, and end up confronting each other. The woman’s husband is restrained and tied to a chair while the boys vandalize his house.
However, the robbery does not go as planned. The home owner sets off the house alarm using a keychain in his pocket. Tsotsi and his friends become spooked and one of the boys decides he will kill the home owner. As he raises his pistol and prepares to shoot the man, Tsotsi shoots his friend and kills him from outside the picture. Blood is splattered everywhere and Tsotsi and the other two boys run away, leaving the man tied to the chair and his friend dead on the floor. At this point, South African police have posted pictures of Tsotsi all over the ghetto and are harassing people who may know his whereabouts. He really begins to feel that pressure from the police and realizes that he must do the right thing before he is arrested; he must return the baby to her parents.
On a damp night, Tsotsi sets out by himself with the baby in her paper bag along with all of the baby’s toys and food in a leather bag. The young man appears at the mansion where security has set up cameras to survey the perimeter and rings the bell at the front gate. Security becomes alarmed, and the husband and wife get out of bed to hurry outside. Other police officers arrive and hold the young man at gunpoint while the husband pushes his wife outside in her wheelchair to talk to Tsotsi. The husband asks the police to be quiet while he talks some sense into the young thug. He slowly opens his gate and walks toward Tsotsi while the police still have their guns pointed at him. Tsotsi has tears in his eyes and is unable to talk he is so afraid, but he gently hands the child over to her father and breathes a sigh of relief. The movie ends abruptly at this point, leaving the viewer in a sense of awe at what just occurred.
Tsotsi is a great movie on several levels. First, it puts the viewer through all emotions. The viewer feels fear and disgust when Tsotsi kills the rich man in the beginning and shoots the rich wife leaving her paralyzed. One also feels an enormous sense of relief when the baby is taken care of by the single mother and when Tsotsi eventually returns the young child to her parents. There is also some heart-pounding action when Tsotsi is driving crazily with the baby in the back seat and when the rich man’s house is being robbed while the alarm is sounding off. The movie also gives an accurate portrayal of life in the rich and extremely poor parts of South Africa and what people must do to survive in the ghettos. Due to the in-depth plot, accurate portrayal of life in South Africa, and overall drama involved in the movie, I rate Tsotsi a 4 out of 5.