Nora Twomey’s Oscar-nominated animated film The Breadwinner is now streaming on Netflix in the U.S.

And I am so glad. The timing of its streaming debut was perfect for my teaching plans this week.

I teach an academic writing class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, in which I show films from around the world to expose students to unfamiliar cultures, worldviews, and ideas about faith and culture, and to show them how religious ideals influence films as wildly different as Raising Arizona, Tokyo Story, The Fits, and The Son. Yesterday, I showed The Breadwinner.

© Cartoon Saloon

My students were enthralled. And, as with the other two features from Cartoon Saloon, a second viewing impressed me even further. I am convinced that this is the most imaginative and important animation team in the world right now.

(Here’s a thoughtful review by Scott Douglas of Mountain Express. And you can read my own review of the film here.)

As my students quietly departed the classroom, I asked them to come back on Monday with questions inspired by the movie, questions that could become the focus of research papers about the movie’s subjects, themes, and artistry.

Me, I had a very specific response this time, and questions I couldn’t stop thinking about for the rest of the day.

I think I find the movie’s most frightening character — that young, gun-wielding Taliban trainee, as simple and undeveloped as his character seems to be — to be more disturbing than any villain I’ve seen in a movie for a while.

© Cartoon Saloon

Perhaps it’s because he seems driven by an irrational power beyond himself. His sense of insecurity is obvious, and thus, provided with a gun, he wages an endless war against anything he doesn’t understand.

He rejects his own education as “useless,” and punishes his former teacher, showing nothing but contempt for a softspoken old man who lost his leg defending the very community in which this young blowtorch grew up.

He abandons any notion of love, and treats women as something to seize and use or to terrorize and destroy.

He reaches for any stupid reason he can think up to punish those who have the dignity and integrity and understanding that he lacks.

The gun doesn’t kill people, no — but it enables the one who carries it to unleash a reign of terror on his neighborhood, fueled by his insatiable desire for control and superiority.

Meanwhile, Nurullah’s quiet family gleams as a fragile wonder, a candle’s flame doomed by a rising storm, in which the much larger guns of the “enlightened” West will unleash terror on this entire society, as we seek to punish and seize and use and control what we do not understand.

© Cartoon Saloon

And here at home, I check the news and find out that our President wants to address problems of increasing violence by distributing even more guns into our communities and schools — which will, of course, only further empower the reckless, the angry, and the insecure. (For a better understanding of what might actually help our nation recover from its disease of gun-empowered hatred, read Nicholas Kristoff’s analysis.)

Once upon a time I would have looked at The Breadwinner as a movie about a foreign culture toxic with hatred, prejudice, greed, and a demonic sort of hyper-masculinity. Now I look at it and see a reflection of my own society, in which men who worship the power of guns are clinging to them in desperation, hiding behind them, terrified that their illusion of superiority will be spoiled and the truth of their weakness and insecurity will be exposed.

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