The male refugees of war torn east Africa were the subject of 2003’s “The Lost Boys of Sudan” and are revisited — thankfully — in “God Grew Tired of Us,” Christopher Quinn’s portrait of three young Sudanese men and their adjustment to life in the United States. Although shot over a longer period of time than “Lost Boys,” “God Grew Tired” is a softer, less complex version of essentially the same story, far less troubling in its explorations and implications than “The Lost Boys,” but with far greater commercial potential.
Any theatrical success will be aided to no small extent by the three haltingly eloquent, charming young Africans at the center of Quinn’s four-years-in-the-making documentary. John Bul Dau, Panther Bior and Daniel Abul Pach, along with thousands of their “brothers,” crossed hostile African terrain in an effort to escape death, slavery and the memories of their families’ murders and destruction.
Many of the refugees died. The remainder had to make do in the Kenyan refugee camp at Kakuma, where they are shown erecting a makeshift society while waiting to have their futures decided.
Quinn’s is a gorgeous looking film, briskly paced and well-edited, perhaps too well-edited. It doesn’t give one a sense of spontaneous difficulty or of the harsh realities these men must have faced, moving uneasily into mainstream America.
Once they are dispatched to various cities in the United States, the similarities to “Lost Boys” grow closer and closer, and some of this is perhaps unavoidable: Introducing rustic Africans to the workings of a Pittsburgh apartment (which is very funny, but we’ve seen it), or American social arrangements (“Only one wife,” one boy says in bewilderment), or the mysteries of the corporate logo (“In our country, we call this Coca-Cola,” another says, pointing to a bottle of Pepsi) are endearing exercises.
What we don’t get is a sense of what it’s really like being black Africans in suspicious white enclaves, even if Quinn reports on some instances of overreaction on the part of the whites, and the occasional meltdown among their new neighbors.
The most complex moment in the movie is the reunion, after many years, of Dau and his mother. A towering, take-charge figure, Dau greets his mother with open arms, while the woman emits a high-pitched, traditional keening cry of joy and gratitude, collapsing in the middle of a runway — while Dau looks at her with a mixture of love and embarrassment.
It’s a conflicted moment for everyone, including the audience, and one of the few where one gets a true sense of just how bizarre it is being a lost boy.