Set in Iran, Sun Children tells the story of Ali, a 12-year-old boy and his friends who are unfortunately the sole providers for their struggling families. As one of the 152 million children forced into child labor, Ali must perform excruciating manual labor instead of getting an education, destroying their bodies and sacrificing their futures just so to survive. However, one day, he and his friends are presented with an opportunity that could change their lives for the better. Recruited to pull off a heist, they must enroll into Sun School, a charitable institution that gives children an education and a future. Once enrolled, they must dig underground of the school to reach a buried treasure that should change their lives.
Directed by Majid Majidi, Sun Children really explores the exploitative nature of Third World countries and the hopeless situations that these children are forced into. The main focus of the story is Ali who, as the only one in his family capable of earning an income, must work as a tire maker to keep up with his mother’s medical bills. Due to non-existent social nets, such as universal health care, child benefits, or welfare, Ali is taken advantage of and works his youth away for a measly amount of money. Like many kids in these situations, Ali is trading time that could have been used for school and thus, sacrificing his future as well.
Ali remains trapped within a system that exploits and the film highlights the class differences that are in place. (In fact, the film even starts off with a luxury car scene showing the benefits that the rich have received from employing child labor.) Here, the wealth difference and divide is absurd, especially within the same city. As a result of a life that forces them to “paycheque to paycheque” or struggling to find work at all, many youth often result to crimes to better their lives, making criminals out of them. In the end, Sun Children shows that this is a corrupt system that has abandoned the needs of millions of youth for financial gain. What’s more, there’s no incentive for the government to make any changes to the system as they are being lobbied by the rich in order to perpetuate this social divide.
Ali and his friends mission subjects them to constant work and sacrifice for no reward. For example, Ali is working to provide for his mother but, due to sacrificing his education, will most likely be in poverty his entire life. His only hope is that his mother gets better miraculously but, with the little funds that he can provide, that most likely isn’t going to happen. At Sun School the boys are, for the first time, given an opportunity to learn, expand their knowledge and gain the possibility to get actual careers and a future for themselves. On Ali’s first day in class, the first question they ask him is what is the greatest source of light, and the answer being the sun. In this way, Sun School refers to these children as the brightest things in our world because the children light up with happiness when they’re in class.
Ali, however, is the only child that is determined to get the treasure and forgoes his opportunity at the school in order to do so. Digging constantly throughout each school day, Ali put everything into trying to obtain the treasure that he believes will change their lives. To him, the treasure means freedom. It’s a fresh start. However, within this culture, these sorts of dreams can be difficult to find (and even more difficult to obtain). As the film concludes, while it highlights the hope that these children carry about their future, Sun School also leans into the painful realities that these Iranian children experience on a daily basis.
What I really liked about this film was that it was not afraid to show the harsh reality of the world that many children around the world live in. For millions of youth, the system in place makes it nearly impossible for them to move up from the depths of poverty, while the rich and politicians keep their wealth and power. While Sun Children may be hard to watch sometimes, it’s a film that is needed to be viewed in order to understand the situation. You really see just how much work and suffering these children go through for almost nothing in return. That being said, the film isn’t in total despair. The moments where the kids are playing or actively participating in school and extra circulars really showcase their innocence and how bright these kids are. In doing so, it also emphasizes how sad it is that they just weren’t given a fair opportunity in life.
Overall, Sun Children is a great film that highlights a major global issue that is invisible to the eyes of people living in First World countries. The exploitation, the corruption, and the endless cycle of poverty in Children is a must watch for those unaware of the current situation and I highly recommend it.
Sun Children is available on VOD on Friday, June 25, 2021