Space in Kandahar

Space can be represented as an imagined community that becomes real through physical attributes. Space in the movie Kandahar is represented in socio-political and visual forms.

Most of the setting occurs in the arid desert where there is endless space. However, the journey narrative structure shrinks this space by introducing national borders, and institutional borders. Characters also use space to reflect the existence or lack of intimacy and trust in their relationships.

Examples of national borders are like that between Iran, Afghanistan and Kandahar. These borders become defining lines between safe and unsafe spaces, especially in the introductory scene were Iranians are robbed in the desert. National borders are also seen at the end of the film where a caravan of people stop to be processed before entry into new territory with an extreme set of laws. Narratively the space of Khandahar seems claustrophobic because it is defined as a place of oppression in a character’s letter. However, it is also defined as an open space in which one may not escape.

Institutional space is recognized in the introduction where young male students study the Qu’ran in a school. The gates of the school create a divide between those with a future and those without. This is evident in the scene were Khak changes clothes with a new student and leaves the school. It is also evident in a scene where school teachers give out bread outside the gates, and are terrorized with hungry locals. Moreover, the space outside the gate is synonymous with the space of the desert which is full of sickness and death.

Back in Iran, there is also a space of refuge where students line to listen to a warning about land mines. The students being primarily female treat the space like a playground, and are instructed to view dolls as mines. The space is institutional, orderly, and associated with freedom.

In comparison the institutional space of the Red Cross in the desert has a different set of laws. People negotiate to have a certain pair of prosthetics. Two foreigners assess and control each patient. This space is one of conflict and desperation where there are more patients than there are prosthetics. It is also a space of mis-communication. The space is lastly, a place of re-identification, where the selection of prosthetics empowers men and women in re-integrating into society as an able person.

Aside from national or institutional spaces, there is also personal space. Personal space is evident in the scene where the protagonist isolates herself into the space of her burqa. The small space of the car also establishes a space of trust among her and other family members. At the campsite, the space between the men and the women is traditional, religious and gendered.

There is also a space of developing conflict, seen between Khak and the protagonist. In the scene when Khak chases the protagonist with a corpse’s ring, the hilly plains of the desert become a vulnerable place without cover. Conflicts often occur in these spaces where routes exist. For example, while travelling on a cart, the protagonist has an argument with a thief who wants to sell his prosthetics. Also, on a path the protagonist struggles to decide which group to follow for protection until she reaches Kandahar.

In contrast, the space of the doctor’s office is like a consulate where the protagonist can speak in her own language and only be understood by the doctor. Her problem and inability to understand the locals is solved in this space of negotiation. This space is a place of healing and equality in comparison to the school where students are trained to kill and are not equal.

The theme of gendered space continues even in the space of the doctor’s office, where the protagonist is separated from the doctor through a curtain. To eliminate gendered borders, one must imagine that the two are married, or one must change their gender by changing their appearance. This idea of change also relates to the doctor’s identity, who assimilates into local culture through dress code.

Lastly, the space of the burqa highlights an issue of trust and mistrust, understanding and miscommunication. In one scene the protagonist cannot see the reactions or feelings of women she is about to meet. The burqa becomes a space of defense against anyone. It also becomes a space of isolation and protection in the end when the protagonist likens it to a jail.

2. The space looks physically empty but as an imaginary space includes unknown dangers and therefore is not empty. The space is also defined as the characters journey through it, and borders are created through gendered or medical or academic practices.

3. Is it something that we see being conquered or acquired?
The space cannot be conquered but many spaces are used for conflict between thieves, the hungry, or between the legless patients who hop to retrieve Red Cross gifts from a helicopter.

4. Is it connected to a particular national or cultural identity?

5. How does the representation of space connected to the narrative, message or political sensibility?

Space is imagined. Much of the narrative is narrated by the protagonist and events are re-imagined for the sake of her sister. The message is that space can always or is always re-defined by politicians, volunteers, locals, or refugees. There are traditional ways of preserving order in space. There is contrast between a space that favours science, and another that favours religion over other needs.

The danger in the desert makes some areas necessary to establish as spaces of protection or  re-identification; in order to be safe. The constantly changing laws of each space make it difficult to maintain a stable identity. One commonality among all is hope for the better.


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