The Forgiven is a 2018 film about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created by Nelson Mandela following his election as President of South Africa.
6 out of 10 stars. This is not easy to watch and there are some slow parts, but it is certainly worth watching.
The film begins in 1955 South Africa when a young white boy goes to listen to an old black man tell stories to the kids. It’s night time and the boy is Piet Blomfeld. The events of that evening turn him into one of the most sadistic and prolific murderers during apartheid in South Africa. His father, an alcoholic, discovers Piet missing, grabs his guns and slaughters the family.
Next we’re in 1993 when there’s rioting in the streets and finally a public election is held. Nelson Mandela is elected President, promising to unite the country. Two years later he has set up a commission called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission whose purpose is to take the confessions of people in government positions who have murdered during apartheid for political reasons. The terms are that the person must fully confess and the crimes must be political in nature. If these terms are met the person gets amnesty and forgiveness for his crimes. Mandela appoints his friend the Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head this commission. Two other priests are also appointed to the commission, so it is mostly run by the Anglican Church (Church of England).
Most people will have several problems with this idea. First, it’s morally wrong for one person or even a commission of people to decide who to “forgive”. Forgiveness can only come from the person against whom the crime was committed. And these people are dead. Second, it’s wrong from a political point of view. When a crime is committed against a citizen it’s the state’s responsibility to prosecute the person who committed the crime. What the victim wants done has nothing to do with it. Punishment is required to protect the other citizens. Third, religion and state should be kept separate and forgiveness is a religious concept. The state, or government, has no right to impose one religion’s belief–in this case the Christian belief in forgiveness for sins–on an entire country of people.
Anyway, one of the people to write to Tutu is Piet Blomfeld. He’s been convicted of multiple murders of blacks as part of the SSA Security Police (basically government endorsed death squads). What no one on the commission knows yet is that two of Blomfeld’s jailors, Hansi and Francois, committed the same murders as part of his death squad.
So Tutu goes to meet Piet and Piet insults him for 20 minutes. He doesn’t ask forgiveness or confess to anything. Tutu leaves and comes back a second time after researching Piet’s case. When he returns he tells Piet: 1. Your crimes were not political and in most cases were women and children. 2. You can’t get amnesty. Piet insults him some more but he also drops some not-so-subtle hints that he has information on Operation Hacksaw. Tutu, ever hopeful, leaves him a tape recorder and encourages him to confess. Tutu goes home and researches Hacksaw only to hit one dead end after another. What he does learn is that it was an operation to kill a lot of people and was endorsed by the government.
When Tutu attempts to return again he is stopped by the Bureau of Prisons who will not allow him to speak to anyone at the Pollsmoor Prison where Piet is being held. But a few days later Tutu gets a message from Piet that he wants to see him. Meanwhile, Piet sends the audio tapes to Tutu via the only prison employee he trusts. That night Piet is murdered by the guards.
Tutu receives the packet of tapes and they reveal in depth what happened in Operation Hacksaw. For the film very little is revealed except that Piet names the other members of the death squad including Francois and Hansi Coetzee (who publicly confesses and begs forgiveness later) and describes in great detail the murder of a 15 year old girl and her boyfriend.
If you have never read or studied anything written by Desmond Tutu then I recommend you watch this film. He was deeply religious and believed in forgiveness. The power he wields over these criminals simply in loving them is very powerful. Love really has the power to combat hatred.
6 out of 10 stars. There’s a moment in the second conversation between Blomfeld and Tutu in which Tutu says there’s no political context in his crimes. Blomfeld then says murder is always personal.
Note from the reviewer: As many readers have discovered, the reviewers on our site are all women and all Christian. We strive to be honest and give reviews from our viewpoints. In some instances our faith is irrelevant to the review. In other instances, it’s very relevant. As a Christian, one of the biggest hurdles for me is to forgive people who intentionally hurt others with the intent of repenting later. That’s not what Jesus intended. He wanted people to have a second chance, a chance to be forgiven for the lives we’d already led so that we could start anew. It was never intended to be used as an endless supply of get-out-of-jail-free cards.
Kudos to Eric Bana for playing Piet Blomfeld. It’s easy to get actors to play the good guys, but difficult to get them to play the bad guys and Piet Blomfeld was a really bad guy. When famous actors refuse to play the bad guys, those films never get noticed. So thank you, Eric.