In 2003, Khaled Hosseini introduced us to the world of Amir and his friendship with Hassan. The two preteen boys lived in the heart of Kabul, and for the time being, the things were pleasant. However, as the story unfolded, we quickly gathered that the land of the Arabian Nights is not the land of magic anymore. Once, the land and its tales filled us with hope. But soon, the horrors took over, and the oppressive men with guns killed their own countrymen. Numerous people tried to flee their homes, but few survived, and those who survived decided to hide. Many of these stories never came to light because the people involved feared for their lives. Other countries and their citizens have their own opinions on refugees, but no one dares to understand what forces a person to flee their home country and become a refugee in the first place.
Written and directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, the animated documentary depicts the life of Amin Nawabi, who had to leave his country, Afghanistan, after the rise of the Taliban in 1989. Amin has had feelings for men since he was a child, but homosexuals are not tolerated in Afghanistan. Until now, Amin had suppressed almost everything for his family’s safety, but it is for the first time that he decides to recount his daring journey in the documentary and gives closure to his past.
The screen opens in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the director interviews his college friend Amin to bring his story to the world. With a bit of hesitation, Amin recollects the events of his life in Kabul in 1984. He lived in a small house with his mother, two sisters, and an older brother. His father, Akhtar Nawabi, was arrested in 1979 as the communist government considered him a threat. He disappeared from the prison three months later, never to be found again.
The political conflict and power struggle in Afghanistan dictated the lives of its citizens, who didn’t know which path to follow. In 1989, after Soviet troops left Afghanistan, the Mujahideen seized power with the help of the USA. Extremist militants launched an attack on Kabul and began killing “non-believers.” To save their lives, Amin and his family fled to Moscow, because at that time, only the Russian government was granting tourist visas to the Afghanis. But life in Russia brought new horrors in their lives, and the only ray of hope was Amin’s eldest brother, Abbas.
Abbas fled from Afghanistan in the 1980s because he didn’t want to join the army and fight a futile war. He decided to smuggle his family to Sweden, but the traffickers demanded hefty money, and Abbas was just a cleaner in Sweden. With time, Abbas saved some money and moved his family members one by one, but in the process, his whole family got scattered in Europe.
Living the Lie
The tourist visa of Amin and his family expired soon, and the family lived in hiding behind closed doors to protect themselves from the authorities. The family couldn’t afford to go back to war-stricken Afghanistan, where they would have been killed as soon as they landed. Their only means of survival was to flee to Sweden, and thus they decided to wait for Abbas to save enough money to smuggle them out of Russia.
The first ones to leave Russia were Amin’s sisters, who were locked inside freight containers to smuggle them to Sweden. The experience was so traumatic and torturous that the remaining family refused to travel along the same route. Amin, his older brother, and his mother attempted to flee through a smuggler but were apprehended along the way and sent to Estonian Asylum. From there, they had no other option but to retreat to Moscow.
After a failed attempt and experiencing a life-threatening escape route, Abbas made arrangements with a very expensive trafficker to bring Amin to Sweden in 1995. However, during the escape, the trafficker told Amin that he would be transported to Copenhagen, where he would have to destroy his passport before passing the passport control booth. Amin did as instructed and told the authorities that he was a refugee with no living family. The Swedish authorities believed Amin’s lie and admitted him to an asylum, taking care of Amin’s education. Though Amin was able to contact Abbas through the telephone, he couldn’t pay a visit to his family in Stockholm until much later.
Throughout these years, Amin lived a lie and hid the fact from everyone that he was the only surviving member of his family. At the beginning of the documentary, he told the director his family was killed while trying to escape Afghanistan. But later, he explained that he lived a lie to protect himself from being deported back to his country. He once shared his secret with his ex-boyfriend in college, who used the fact against Amin and started blackmailing him. Hence, later in life, Amin decided to bury the truth about his family, but during the making of his documentary, he wanted to accept his past and come to terms with it. Hence, during the interview, Amin finally told the truth that each member of his family is very much alive except for his father, who was never found.
‘Flee’ Ending Explained
Amin had been running and living in hiding throughout his life. The fact was duly explored in both the current and past timelines running parallel in the documentary. In his recollection of memories, Amin fled from his country and was running away from people who wanted to deport him back. Later, when he finally found a shelter in Copenhagen, Amin started running away from his sexuality because he thought his family would reject him for being gay. Living alone in Denmark, Amin lost a sense of belonging and didn’t want to lose his family because of his attraction towards men.
However, when Amin revealed to Abbas and his sisters that he wasn’t attracted to women, Abbas took Amin to a gay nightclub and supported his sexual identity. Abbas told Amin that they always knew it and there was nothing to worry about. His family would always support and love him for who he is.
But running away became Amin’s defense mechanism and infected his system. In the current timeline, Kasper, Amin’s boyfriend, wanted to settle down with Amin and move to the countryside. However, instead of cherishing the new chapter in life, Amin decided to go back to the US to finish his post-doc research. Amin didn’t have any definite reason for running away now, but he was stuck in a loop. He tried to tell the director that his family had sacrificed a lot for him, to which the director asked how not moving to the countryside would help his family. Evidently, Amin had no answer. He was just trying to find reasons because he was afraid of settling down.
While back in the US, Amin experienced city life where people were randomly running from one place to another without any purpose. They are constantly on the move and often fail to cherish the moment. Fortunately, Amin was conscious enough to realize that running away was not good for him. He wanted to settle down, make his roots firm to the ground, and thus Amin came back to Copenhagen to start his new life with Kasper. Realizing the fact that he didn’t need to keep moving or running, Amin was finally able to lower his guard down. He revealed his vulnerabilities and secrets to Kasper, and four months later, the couple moved to the countryside, where they finally got married. In the countryside, Amin finally found his roots, a home, a safe place where he could stay and would not have to flee anymore.
Amin’s mother and brother were also moved out of Russia a couple of years after Amir arrived in Copenhagen. However, his family was scattered all throughout Europe.
Flee is a 2021 Danish Biopic Documentary directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen.