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Yesterday (2004)

by | Oct 2, 2017

A young Zulu woman perseveres nobly through the hardship of a personal AIDS diagnosis and attempts to make a significant difference in the lives of her daughter and husband before she dies.

Medium: Film

Writer(s): Darrell Roodt

Director: Darrell Roodt

Production Co.(s): Distant Horizon; Dv8; Exciting Films; HBO Films; M-Net; Nelson Mandela Foundation; Videovision Entertainment

The Story on the Screen

In Yesterday, a young Zulu woman named Yesterday copes with the onset and development of health, family, and social problems related to her personal bout with AIDS. She is a faithful wife and loving mother who picked up the deadly HIV virus unwittingly from her migrant-miner husband—who (it is implied) acquired it by means of an unspecified extramarital dalliance during his time away from her, working in the mines in Johannesburg. Her good-hearted innocence speaks to both the dispassionate impartiality with which the disease may strike and the special tragedy that accompanies its spread to those whose circumstances render them resource-limited in their ability to fight it.

In the eponymous tale Yesterday, a young Zulu woman named Yesterday copes with a slew of problems, including her own bout with AIDS, while attempting to stay true to herself and to remain an open-hearted person.

The principles of Discovering the Soul of Your Story help to identify an important distinction between "stories" and "tales" (see "The Difference Between a Story and a Tale"). By virtue of this distinction, Yesterday may be considered an example of a tale, not a story. The main character does not possess an overarching intent to propel the plot, and the ability of the film to hold the attention of its audience relies on appealing to the sympathetic nature of that audience rather than to the arc of the tale itself.

The film Yesterday is more of a tale than a story.

Much of the screen time is dedicated to establishing Yesterday's character—specifically, that she is open-hearted and prone not to complain. When she encounters a group of gossipy women at the village well who are arguing about one of their tribesmen marrying a girl from another village, she offers that it is okay as long as they love each other. And she accepts with barely an expression of disappointment the fact that she is turned away twice from a clinic very far from her village because she does not arrive early enough to be seen.

We also know that she is not prone to superstition, because she turns first to the clinic for help rather than to the local tribal healer (sangoma).

When she finally sees the clinic doctor and receives the diagnosis that she has AIDS, she does not rail against the unfairness of her fate. Instead, she travels to Johannesburg to visit her husband and ask him to get tested for the HIV virus—a mission that fails miserably when he beats her for implying that he is diseased. On the way home, she flashes back to a formerly loving relationship that they seem to have lost. And when he arrives back in the village the following winter, wracked with complications of the disease, she accepts his apologies without question—going so far as to build him a shelter when no hospital will take him (because they are all full) and crying at his grave site, which she appears to visit frequently the following summer.

Behind the Scenery

At some point after her husband's death, Yesterday resolves that she will live long enough to see her daughter, Beauty, attend her first day of school—a privilege that Yesterday herself never enjoyed. We do not see her make the resolution; we know that she has done so only because she mentions it to the doctor at the clinic. Likewise, we do not see her struggle to keep the vow, but we do know that she succeeds in doing so—by way of a final scene in which she stands outside the schoolyard gate watching Beauty enter the classroom with her schoolmates then walks off into the distance down a lonely road. Although Yesterday is a tale, not a story, it still can be gleaned for its primary issue, and it is possible to construct a proposition for the work. In this case, the issue may be said to revolve around "nobly accepting life as it comes."

The primary issue in the film can be stated as "nobly accepting life as it comes."

This issue suggests itself, in part, because of the perspectives expressed by the other characters in the core ensemble. For example, when the women at the well are complaining about the tribesman marrying a girl from another village and that something should be done about it, they are supporting the idea that one should not simply accept life as it comes. By contrast, two teachers whom Yesterday and Beauty meet on the road home from their first unsuccessful foray to the far-away clinic seem very accepting of the fact that they have tried to find work for two years. When one of them does land a job in Yesterday's village, the other seems resolved that it was not to be for her and some other opportunity must be ahead… she will keep searching. And when Beauty is unsuccessful at finding a place for her husband in the hospital, she accepts the situation without complaint and finds an alternative—to build a shed to shelter his final days.

The storytellers render Yesterday to be a likeable and sympathetic character and seem to support the idea that "nobly accepting life as it comes" is an advisable endeavor. It is possible, therefore, to state the proposition of Yesterday as:

  • One should attempt to keep one's composure and nobly accept life as it comes, because success in the attempt will protect those who deserve to be shielded from her tragedies and will render her praiseworthy.

By having Yesterday succeed in her intent to keep alive until Beauty enters school, the storytellers support their premise. Because the intent arrives very late in the story, however, we-the-audience are inhibited from identifying a strong theme in the film early on.

Because Yesterday's strongest intent arrives very late in the tale, we cannot identify a strong theme in the film early on.

And although the cinematography alone may keep us watching, the slow pace and lack of a clear story throughline demands that we exercise extreme patience to see the entertainment through to its the end. In this case, the patience is rewarded with a heart-string-tugging ending but is required nonetheless.

For More Information

For details regarding the concepts and terms mentioned in this article, please refer to the resource materials.

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