When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, Louong Ung was 5 years old and living in Phnom Penh with her family. Her father was part of the previous government, and so the Ungs left Phnom Penh to hide, living in anonymity. Eventually Louong was sent to be trained as a child soldier while her siblings labored in work camps.
Angelina Jolie directed this adaptation of Ung’s memoir of the same title. Rather than a straightforward reenactment of events, this movie tells the story through the eyes of little Louong. As she experiences the loss of her home, the fear, the hunger, the separation from loved ones, and eventually more graphic horrors of war, viewers experience it with her.
It is a slow, ponderous film. There is often little dialog, and it is subtitled in English because actors are speaking the Khmer language. Often the viewer is left to understand things the same way Louong was—by noticing details of what happens around her, inferring the meaning of it all, even imagining what might have taken place.
The brutal Khmer Rouge regime wiped out approximately a quarter of the population of Cambodia. This tragedy has parallels in many other places in our world, both historically and today. Jolie has crafted a film that allows viewers to walk the road so many have had to walk. It can help open our hearts to what others have experienced and spur us on to compassion and action, knowing that God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:4). Streaming on Netflix now.