Angelina Jolie Depicts Rape and Abuse of Women in War in 'In the Land of Blood and Honey'

If Angelina Jolie wanted to create a film that is both jarring and unforgettable, she has succeeded.

Jolie's new movie In the Land of Blood and Honey is memorable not only for its graphic scenes of war, but also its strong display of the abuse of women in war and its argument in favor of humanitarian intervention.

The film takes place during the 1990s Bosnian War and follows a tumultuous romance between a Bosnian Muslim woman, Ajla, and a Bosnian Serb man, Danijel. Danijel, who is an officer in the Serbian army, is able to continue his relationship with Ajla, but under the pretext that she is his prisoner. The Bosnian War was notorious for its rape prisons that detained thousands of women and systematically raped its prisoners as a tool of ethnic cleansing.

Although this romance was sparked before the war, it becomes a clear metaphor for the larger conflict. Before the war, inter-marriage was common and people lived in generally peaceful coexistence. But as the war progresses, distinct lines are drawn between ethnic groups, and as Ajla and Danijel become confused in their relationship, so do a people who formally existed peacefully.

Jolie is explicit in her portrayal of the treatment of women during the war. She does not shy away from showing horrific scenes of rape, abuse, humiliation, mass killing, internment, etc. In doing this, she presents unequivocal evidence that women continue to be abused and treated as objects of war. 

In one scene, Ajla and several other women are taken from the prison to act as human shields in a small shoot out between Serb soldiers and a group of Bosnian guerilla fighters. The sheer horror this experience leaves in the women is hard to forget. 

In the Land of Blood and Honey Trailer

Jolie also clearly portrays the blind eye which the international community turned on the conflict. Humanitarian intervention clearly came too late, after nearly 100,000 deaths. In several scenes, officers arrogantly claim that the international community would not dare intervene, and in another, a Muslim woman states that an Italian airplane dropped supplies on the country but left with an empty plane, taking no one. Italy is less than 40 minutes from the conflict, she points out in the dialogue.

As a descendent of immigrants from the former Yugoslavia (my family, composed of mixed Balkan ethnicities, was stunned into silence during the war), I was inherently skeptical of a story based on a romance between a Bosnian rape victim and her Serb captor/lover. But, Jolie succeeds in accurately portraying both events and emotions during the conflict. Watching the film puts you on edge, and you can only imagine how it must have felt to actually be present during these obscene events. 

Though I can understand why the Women Victims of War protested the film, for those of us outside the conflict, it is an accurate and vivid depiction based on true events. Jolie does an excellent job of putting the women victims of Bosnia at the forefront of her film, drawing explicit attention to the atrocious crimes committed against them in the name of politics. She also presents a strong case for humanitarian intervention when atrocious crimes against humanity are being committed, for it was clear in this case that intervention came far too late.   

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Lindsay Novis

Writer, runner and recovering dancer. Formerly at the Clinton Global Initiative and the Senate Finance Committee. Lover of all things active and outdoors.

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