My Netflix List: Beyond the Clouds

I just finished watching “Beyond the Clouds”, a 2017 Hindi movie marking Ishann Khatter’s debut role (also known as Shahid Kapoor’s half-baby-brother). I was intrigued by this movie after seeing Ishaan’s first major release, “Dhadak”.

“Beyond the Clouds” is the gritty story of a young drug dealer who matures suddenly when his sister is unjustly imprisoned. It’s a coming-of-age story about unlikely relationships forming in the shadow of tragedy. Having seen “Dhadak” before “Beyond the Clouds”, I couldn’t believe that I was watching the same Ishaan Khatter. With this talent, looks and family connections, a stellar career is his to lose.

“Beyond the Clouds” is a difficult but sweet movie, with plenty of tender moments to relieve us from the injustice of it all. The movie ends at an inflection point in the story, not at the end of the story, which felt a little abrupt. As if director Majid Majidi had suddenly run out of film.

Part of the narrative unfolds in a women’s prison in Mumbai and one thing that surprised me was the presence of children in the prison. Of course, the children of poor women have nowhere to go once their mothers are imprisoned. Some are born in captivity, some just follow their mothers behind bars. One character is a 5-year-old child who came to prison with his mother at the age of 3 months. She is serving a life sentence for killing her abusive husband, along with her son. At some point in the story, someone explains to him what the moon is. He has never seen the moon, or the stars, or felt rain. He is under lock and key at night, like the rest of the inmates.

It reminded me of the migrant situation in the United States. Family separations came about because family incarcerations were illegal. Both are inhumane approaches throwing the sins of the parents unto their children. No matter how you feel about migrants, no matter what you believe about the relationship between migrants and the children who accompany them, there is no argument that the children are innocent. And yet, they suffer the worst punishment because they are innocent.

Different factions make different arguments to justify family separations or incarcerations. The parents were endangering their children anyway, the children should be removed for their safety. The parents are acting against the law, people who disrespect the law are criminals, criminals are always separated from their children when they go to prison. How else are we supposed to discourage people from coming into the country illegally? These children are not really children. These parents are not really parents. Regardless of the point, there must be a mental classification of the families as somewhat different than we are. The children cannot suffer as ours would, the parents cannot feel like we would feel. These people must be different than we are. We are human, they are… something else. Relating is built deep into our DNA, attachment is our first survival mechanism. There is mental work involved in making the other into someone we can’t relate to.

In today’s The Daily podcast, a father and his daughter who disagree on the Trump administration’s immigration policies have a phone conversation. At some point, the father exclaims: “These people are not fleeing for their lives, they are just looking for a better life!” Aren’t we all? Shouldn’t this make us more empathetic? Unless “these people” are something different than we are. Something less deserving. Something less… human.

Catholic moral philosophy teaches that an act, to be morally good, must preserve the goodness of the object, the end, and the circumstances altogether. Inserting evil into any part of the equation corrupts the entire chain of means to end. Denying human beings the dignity they deserve because we have made them into something less than human corrupts the chain of morality entirely. In “Beyond the Clouds,” petty drug dealer Amir’s life is only worth what value he can bring to those hiring him. When he starts causing more trouble than he’s worth, he is summarily dispatched. A commodity himself, he values those around him based on the benefit they can bring him. When, en route to sell a young girl under his protection to a local brothel owner, he sees her humanity, he can no longer get through with the transaction. His punishment comes swiftly and ironically when his best friend sells him out to the thugs he betrayed,  30 pieces of silver-style.

Dehumanization. It’s a story as old as the world. And it never ends well.