Resourceful 12-year-old Zain hustles any way he can to survive; his parents send him out to make money in the streets instead of sending him to school. But when his worst fear comes true and his parents sell his young sister into marriage, he runs away from home, looking for relief from his pain and anger.
In spite of Zain’s hard work and ingenuity, he finds only more problems. Furious, he sues his parents for having given birth to him. He wanted to be a good man, he says, but he is “living in hell.”
While English-speaking Christians may associate the title Capernaum with the town near the Sea of Galilee where Christ spent a good portion of his time, Lebanese director Nadine Labaki explains her choice of titles this way in an interview for the New York Times: “Capernaum is a biblical village that was doomed by Jesus [Matt. 11:23]. Later on, the word started being used to signify chaos.” When struggling to come up with a script, she looked at the board her themes were written on and said, “C’est un Capernaum. It’s hell. It’s chaos.”
Truly, the streets of Beirut seem hellish for the myriad neglected children, refugees, and people in poverty. A sense of desperation creeps into viewers as we bear witness to the agony of this life. After watching it together, friends and I talked about hell; at its most basic level, hell is separation from God. It’s not hard to imagine that these people feel God is absent from them when meeting even their most basic needs seems impossible. The slight sense of hope that exists occurs when someone listens, Zain’s voice is heard, and it ignites change.
With a cast of non-actors from backgrounds similar to the roles they play, Labaki has created a gut-wrenching film that asks sobering questions. The world is teeming with hurting children like Zain; what does the future hold for them? And what will we do about it? On disc now. (Sony Classics)