Set in Johannesburg, the capital of South Africa, 2005 film Tsosti follows a teenage gang member through six days in his life. The character, Tsotsi, has been numbed by the life he leads of petty crime and has become corrupted by the violence he has witnessed. A crucial event takes place during a successful carjacking when Tsotsi hears a crying baby in the back seat, and decided to . From this moment onward the audience sees Tsosti’s character evolve from murderous, uncaring and violent to a man with compassion for others and empathy for his own past.
Throughout the film we witness Tsosti’s dreams about his painful childhood and the abuse he observed growing up. In the flashback we recognize that his father suffers from alcoholism and appears to be a violent man. We see in a flashback that Tsotsi watched in horror as his father mistreated his dog, and this drove him to run away from home. Tsotsi joined the criminal brotherhood and hid his true identity by becoming “Tsotsi”, meaning “thug” in his native language. Similar to a mentally unstable patient that first presents a tough or barbaric exterior to cope with his traumatic past. Tsotsi no longer has use for past memories and therefore his conscience is absent.
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Early on in the film, one of the gang members, Boston, confronts Tsotsi in the bar proclaiming he had no decency after the gang robbed and killed a man. Boston continues to show remorse and tries to scratch at Tsotsi’s hard shell, attempting to find understanding. Tsotsi reacted by attacking Boston, and beat him down before running out of the bar. As Tsotsi runs we see a flashback of a younger version of himself, running as well. Later we flashback again to the same young boy sitting in a pipe protected from the rain. Clearly showing that Boston had unleashed a repressed memory and aggressive behaviour.
A car pulls up at the gated home across from Tsotsi and a woman gets out to open the gate, Tsotsi advances with his gun pointed at her to steal the car. As he tries to drive off, the woman opens the door and he shoots her. As he drives off down the road, he discovers her baby in the back seat. Tsotsi scaled the car for valuables and considered leaving the baby but instead put the baby in a shopping bag and left the scene. These flashbacks start to appear more frequently after he receives the baby, and as he continues to try and care for him. It is this moment that we see the character have compassion for another being, and this forces him into a nurturing role.
One night Tsotsi tripped over a crippled beggar’s wheelchair while walking out of the train station. The beggar curses him, speaks insultingly and spits at him. In the next scene we see the beggar give away change to another man. Tsotsi begins to stalk this man, appearing to be seeking revenge. As Tsotsi approaches to confront the beggar, he offers him his money, but instead he kicks the can and Tsotsi challenges the man to “Stand up”. Once it is discovered that the beggar is unable to walk, Tsotsi kneels near him and reveals another glimpse of his memory, showing he is capable of showing empathy for others. Similar to a patient with post traumatic stress disorder, Tsotsi experiences a well known symptom called re-experiencing the traumatic event.
After coming back from his dispute with the beggar to find the baby covered in ants, Tsotsi realizes that he needs help. He follows a local mother to her home, the then pulled his gun out, and forced himself inside. Comparable to Tsotsi’s encounter with carjacking although he is not after possessions, but the mother’s milk. Tsotsi forces the mother to breast feed “his” baby, but after the mother washes him and speaks in soothing tones. A recollection of a woman lying in bed, presumed to be Tsotsi’s mother, shows the audience her hand reached out towards him. Once Tsotsi returned home with the baby he sits in the dark room and the full memory emerges. “David, David.” We see the same woman in the bed reaching, but this time we see the younger version of Tsotsi. It is only verified the next time he brings the baby to the mother that he desires to connect to a maternal figure. The mother asks “What is your name, little one?” Tsotsi tells her the baby boy’s name is “David.” Showing that he identifies with the baby and thus exposing his true identity.
Eventually, Tsotsi believes what he has to offer is not enough to meet little David’s needs, and he leads his gang to the baby’s home to commit armed robbery. The gang members were not aware that the goal was to collect the baby supplies in the pursuit of creating security for little David. The owner of the house set off an alarm to call for help, but this causes a member to try to shoot him in the head. We see the man standing and hear a gunshot. Instead of seeing the man fall we see Tsotsi has killed his pack member, saving little Davids true father. Tsotsi had decided to not identify to with his violent side, and symbolically showed the audience his opposition to the lifestyle he had associated with for so long.
Nearing the end of the film, he first offers to give the local mother money, he apologizes to Boston for the pain he inflicted,, and he meets the beggar to give him a wad of money. Tsotsi plans to leave the baby by the gate, but as he attempts to leave the baby starts to cry. He does not leave and instead comforts the baby as his parents wait eagerly to reunite with their child. John, little David’s father, approaches David, who reluctantly hands back the infant. David raises his hands above his head in obedience, exhibiting vulnerability and repentance.
Living with an aggressive father and lack of contact with his mother, Tsotsi has had to wear a mask to protect himself from a distressing past. The film’s ending softens Tsotsi’s original trauma as the baby, “David”, was joined with caring parents. The mother fights to get her baby back, unlike Tsotsi’s mother. The baby’s father is opposite to Tsotsi’s as he supports his wife and controls the situation calmly. As a result, through confrontation of a traumatic memory, Tsotsi has transformed from threatening to sensitive and developed a humane disposition. Proving that every action is a choice left to the individual to use as personal destruction or personal growth.