Oeroeg (Going Home) (1993)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Hans Hylkema.

Starring:     Jeroen Krabb (Hendrik Ten Berghe), Rik Launspach (Johan), Martin Schwab (Oeroeg), Ramelan Bekkema (Kleine Oeroeg), Peter Faber (Van Bergen Henegouwen), Tom Van Bauwel (Twan), Joris Putman (Little Johan), Franois Beukelaers (Van Woerkom), Tom Jansen (Kolonel van Dalen), Jos Rizal Manua (Deppoh), Chris Tates, Marcel Musters (Soldaat).

Patrick Kerkhof (Soldaat in training).

in Indonesia, a white Dutch boy and son of a native servant grow up together; many years later they re-meet during Indonesian War of Independence (obtained officially in 1949)

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

 

Indonesia, 1946. Protestors are tearing down the Dutch flag.

Holland 1946. Dutch soldiers are taking rifle practice. The drill instructor gets after a soldier he calls Private Blockhead. The soldier says that his name is Twan Mortler.

Johan Ten Berghe joined the Dutch army when the Dutch East Indies unilaterally declared their independence as Indonesia.

Dutch soldiers are on their way to Indonesia.

Flashback. Dutch East Indies, 1928. Two friends, one Indonesian and the other Dutch, have a good time playing together. The Dutch boy's name is Johan Ten Berghe, while his native best friend is named Oeroeg.

It's night time and people are out calling for Johan and Oeroeg. Johan's father, Hendrik, calls out for him. Johan calls out for his father. An Indonesian servant takes off most of his clothing and dives into the water to rescue the boys.

When Johan is back with his father, dad tells him that the "Indo boy" is a bad influence on him. Meanwhile, Oeroeg's father tells him not to play with the master's son and don't even go to the big house.

Late at night, the two boys get together in Johan's bedroom and conduct a ceremony that makes them blood brothers.

Back to the present. The Dutch soldiers are watching newsreel footage with narration that says this is why the Dutch must protect their colony.

Batavia 1947. The new soldiers are taken through the town where they see some natives shot by a Dutch soldier. The soldiers are taken to the Netherlands Hotel.

Johan sees a woman he knows named Lida Banning working in the hotel. They both come together and start talking about how it's been eight year since they last saw each other. She says she stayed hidden and thus avoided the Japanese. She was not sent to a camp. Johan says he wants to find his father. Lida will take him to his father.

Along the way Lida introduces Johan to a man named Van Amerongen that was in Struiswijk Camp with Johan's father. Now Van says he wants to take Johan to meet his wife Valerie. Meeting the young soldier is just the think to pick up her spirits.

Van says his father has left Batavia. They don't know where his father is, but Van thinks it most likely that he returned to his plantation Kebon Jati.

Van introduces Valerie to Johan, but Valerie is in no mood to socialize. She asks why did Johan return? She also indicates that this is a terrible place: "First the Japs, then the extremists with their Red and White!" They all want to get rid of the Dutch.

Lt. Johan and a driver, Twan, take a jeep to Kebon Jati. They stop at a sign that asks: "What are you dying for, Dutch soldier?" Both men decided to continue on. Nearing Kebon Jati the lieutenant stops and examines the plantation house with binoculars. He tells Twan to wait here while he goes close to investigate the situation.

Somebody watches as the lieutenant walks toward the house. This somebody gets the drop on the lieutenant. He tells him to raise his automatic weapon above his head using both hands. The unknown man tells the lieutenant to move down the path. Johan thinks that voice is the voice of Oeroeg and he calls out his name. At about the same time, Twan fires a shot near the native and scares him away. Twan then waves to Johan. Johan is not pleased, but his driver meant well.

The two soldiers rush up to the house. Johan yells out for his father. They go into the house and carefully search each room.

Machine gun fire is heard. Twan finds father. He is leaning back in a chair. A straight razor is found on the floor next to the chair. The razor is found in a pool of blood. Was it suicide or did someone else slit his throat?

Flashback. Johan's father is having a large group of people over to the plantation house. Dad watches as Johan and Oeroeg are together looking through some grass. Lida watches the two boys.

Van Amerongen speaks with Hendrik and says that Lida is a smart lady. When did she come to the Indies? Hendrik says that was long ago. She runs a lodging house. She is also a teacher for Johan twice a week.

Hendrik comes over to the boys and tells his son not to get dirty and he tells Oeroeg to go home now. He then speaks with Lida in private. He says if Johan should ask about his mother, please tell him that his mother is sick and in Holland.

Later Lida dances with Johan. Dad announces that they are now all going swimming. And bring your booze along! They go out onto the water on a raft. Johan becomes so frightened that he runs to the back of the raft. His father tries to stop him, but Johan just falls into the water at the raft's back end.

Johan has a nightmare at home in his bed. When he awakens they have bad news for the boy. Their servant Deppoh jumped into the water to save Johan, but he himself got entangled in a lot water weeds and died. Johan is convinced that the water spirit killed Deppoh. And now Johan gets more bad news. Oeroeg has come to say goodbye because he is moving to Darsala. Dad gives Johan some water from a glass, but then Johan spits it back in his face.

Back to the present. A funeral is held for Hendrik Ten Berghe. At the funeral Johan says that if he had come 30 minutes earlier he could have saved his father. He also says that near Kebon Jati he was threatened by his father's probable killer. He adds: "I'm almost sure it was Oeroeg."

West Java, 1947. Johan is in trouble for taking leave without official permission. Johan says he thought his father was in great danger. And he thinks he can catch his father's murderer. His commanding officer tells him that finding the killer of his father is not his job. Leave that to the police. Johan asks should he leave it alone even though the suspect is with the TNI? [TNI is the Indonesian National Armed Forces ( Indonesian: Tentara Nasional Indonesia)].  That changes the matter.  The commanding officer tells him to take an inexperienced NCO with him.

So Johan takes his regular driver Twan with him.  They drive to a village and Johan goes into the hut of a sleeping old woman.  A woman with a baby comes in and asks what is he doing here?  Johan recognizes her as Satih.  And now she recognizes Johan .  She tells him it is very dangerous for him to be here.  And it puts them in danger too.  He asks about her mother and Satih says she has malaria.  He finally gets around to asking where is Oeroeg?  Satih says she doesn't know, but he's not here. 

Twan calls out for the lieutenant and tells him that HQ radio says that a large TNI column is approaching.  They just crossed the Mandlrl.  They go to check it out.  On a bridge they find a destroyed Dutch jeep.  It looks like a bomb was planted on the bridge. 

A stretched wire is placed across the road.  The Dutch jeeps come rolling on toward the wire.  Johan sees the wire because a bird is sitting on it.  He yells to Twan to stop the jeep but Twan is not fast enough in stopping.  He gets a very nasty wound on the right side of his neck.  They take captive just one Indonesian.  And they are going to torture the man with electrical shocks to break the man's silence.  Before the torture is begun, Johan is relieved.

Johan visits Twan in the hospital.  He asks the nurse to give him some type of pain killer.  She tells Johan that they don't have any morphine. 

The Dutch have placed their captive turned upside down on  the end of a rope.  They keep spinning him around to make him dizzy. 

The nurse Rita tells Johan that he really shouldn't be here because he's not really a soldier. 

Johan hears the prisoner cry out in pain.  He tries to stop the torture, but is told that this is none of his business.  "Whose side are you on?"   Johan demands that this stop.  So the sergeant has his men just release the rope all at once and the prisoner lands hard on his head.  Sarge tells Johan that he will have to report this and the major is not going to be happy about it.  Johan really gets mad and pushes the sergeant away from him. 

Flashback.  Johan and Oeroeg ride in a horse drawn carriage.  Both Johan and Oeroeg do well in school. 

Johan celebrates his birthday.  Oeroeg brings a gift for Johan.  It's a home made spear.  All of a sudden a whole jeep load of children are brought in to attend the party.  Johan is a bit upset that the party just can't be for the two of them.  But father wants to wean Johan off of his exclusive friendship with Oeroeg.   The Indonesian feels out of place and leaves the party. 

Back to the present.  Johnan wakes up to Radio Indonesia which keeps telling the Dutch why they don't belong here because they are just oppressing a colonial people who want their freedom.  This irritates Johan and he rushes over to the tent mess hall.  He tells the men that they know that this radio station is forbidden to be played.  Someone answers:  "They play such good music!"  Johan tells the person that next time they all will be brought up on charges.  And Deelstra will be the first one charged. 

Twan is transferred to a hospital.  Johan goes to talk to the Indonesian prisoner.  Rita interrupts him saying it's not the time for interrogation.  When Rita leaves, Johan sees two ampules of morphine, the very medicine that Rita said they don't have. 

The major comes out to speak to Johan.  Col. van Daalen just told him that Johan had sent a confidential report on the prisoner straight to HQ.   Johan responds by saying:  "War is no excuse for lawlessness.  Shall we leave it at that?"   The major is even madder now, saying:  "You're a bigger fool than I thought!"

Flashback.  Oeroeg watches as Johan and his friends play tennis.  Johan sees his native buddy and they acknowledge each other.  Then Johan asks if Oeroeg wants to play tennis?  Oeroeg is very happy to play, but the other boys think that Oeroeg is just Johan's servant and are glad that Oeroeg will do the duties of a ballboy.  A tennis ball goes over the fence and lands near Oeroeg.  The boys tells him to throw the ball back, but Oeroeg is mad now and throws the ball away from the tennis players.  All the boys, except Johan, chase after Oeroeg. 

Johan is bothered by the incident and he goes to Lida to ask:  "Is Oeroeg less than us?"  Lida asks him what happened and Johan tells her that Oedroeg ran away from Kobon Jati.  She gives him a ride home in her car and along the way she tells Johan:  "Of course, Oeroeg isn't less than us. . .  Oeroeg is your friend.  That's all that counts."  Lida goes with Johan  to find Oeroeg.  When they do find him, Lida says that Oeroeg must be in school now.  Oeroeg, washing down his water buffalo, responds that he's no longer a student, but a farmer. 

So Lida takes off her shoes and goes into the water.  She starts splashing water onto Oeroeg, which makes the boy laugh at the silly sight.  Later, she tells Oeroeg that it's important that he attend school.  This way he will learn how to read and write and do arithmetic.   And she says that Johan's father will be going back to Europe soon and Johan and Oeroeg can stay with her.  The boys are ecstatic about this possibility. 

The boys are older now.  Johan says that his father wants him to come back to Kebon Jati, but Johaln says he wants to stay here with Lida and Oeroeg.  He tells Oeroeg that dad's new wife is not even something he wants to talk about.  The door bell rings and Oeroeg goes to the door.  He comes back with two lovely native girls dressed in western clothes.  Their names are Karin and Annelles.  Johan is very nervous about talking to the girls.  They dance together in the western style and to western music.  It doesn't take Oeroeg long before he is kissing Karin. 

Lida comes home and the guys have to hide everything.  Oeroeg tells Johan to give him some money for the girls.  Johan is shocked to learn that the two women are prostitutes. 

Back to the present.  Johan asks a native woman to sell him some melons for the hospital, but the woman won't sell any to him.  A little later he sees the vendor come out of the hospital with only a few melons left.  So after the woman is gone, Johan goes to speak with Rita.  He tells her that when Twan was here there was no morphine for him.  But there was morphine for the enemy sniper.  Rita says she just happened to find an ampule.  Johan takes a melon and smashes it againt the table.  Ampules of morpine fall out from the opened melon. 

He aks her how long has she worked for the TNI?  She says she's a nurse.  Johan asks:  "But on which side?"   He says that he can report her.  He changes the subject by throwing down a photo of Oeroeg.  He then begins speaking about Oeroeg and why he wants to find him.  Rita says, so Johan can kill his blood-brother?  Johan says no, he just wants to find out what happened.  And since she has contacts on both sides in the fight, maybe she can find Oeroeg for him.  Rita asks if that's an order?  Johan answers no, but in reality Rita has no choice. 

Col. van Daalen meets with Johan and the major.  The colonel wants to transfer Johan to a training center in Holland.  He is to return to Holland on the next boat.  By the way, Johan will get a promotion to first lieutenant.  And one other thing:  Twan died last night.  "Will you visit his parents in Holland?"  Johan is in shock. 

The Dutch troops head to a village which they will search.  Johan sees a new boy working for him.  The boy says that Miss Rita said the lieutenant needed help.  Johan goes to see if anything is missing from his room and finds the photograph of Oeroeg returned to him.  He finds a note from Oeroeg.  "Come to Telaga Hideung tomorrow."

The next morning Johan waits at the appointed place. 

Flashback.  Oeroeg says that if Johan wants to study architecture, doesn't that mean that he will have go go back to Holland?    Oeroeg says he is going to study medicine. 

Johan tries to buy something from a vendor, but the man won't sell anything to Johan.  So Oeroeg asks the guy to sell him two items.  The vendor still won't do it and Oeroeg is going to attack him.  Johan holds him back and they start walkilng away.  The vendor insults Oeroeg again by saying that he should get a brush and paint himself white.  Again Johan has to hold Oeroeg back. 

They can't go to the movies either, because the movies are strictly segregated between whites and browns.  So Oeroeg says he is going to see the film in the brown section.  Johan says he will just roam around for awhile and then they can go get a drink together.  The movie showing Tarzan and Jane suddenly goes out.  The arrangement of the theater is that on one side of the screen the movie is shown for the whites.  On the other side of the screen, back to back, the same movie is played, but for the browns.   Oeroeg goes to one side of the screen so he can whistle at the projectionist to tell him to fix the film.  And from there he sees Johan sitting in the white section.  He is shocked by this and Johan can't think of anything to say. 

Back to the present.  A boat comes down river with two people in it.  Johan waits for the boat's arrival.  He is taken prisoner and taken to the TNI encampment.  There he finds that Lida is the voice of Radio Indonesia.  She asks him if he is surprised?  Yes.  "You were the picture of innocence at father's funeral . . . "  She asks:  "Innocence?  What am I guilty of?"   Johan calls her a collaborator with the enemy.  Lida wants information from him and he says he doesn't have any.  She says they can't let him go.  He is a prisoner of war of the Republic of Indonesia. 

Johan is escorted front and back by a guardat each end.  All of a sudden there is firing and the Indonesians run back, while Johan throws himself down the hill and rolls for quite a ways.  Johan frees up his hands.  At the bottom of the hill Johan finds a jeep and a dead soldier, who turns out to be the nasty sargeant.  He then comes up on a burned out village.  He looks for the house of Saith and the old woman.  Johan finds the two women dead.  Only the baby remains alive.  He rolls the baby's mother over and picks up the baby.  As he comes outside, he is taken into custody by the locals.  They later let him go.

Johan is now dressed in civilian clothes.  He comes to say goodbye to Lida and an Indonesian man.  He is leaving by boat tomorrow.  He shakes hands with the Indonesian fellow and kisses Lida.  The natives start singing a song that contains the lyrics:  "Loyal to Sukarno".   The two men start wrestling with each other and Oeroeg tells Johan to go back to his own country and never come back. 

Flashback.  Johan is heading for Holland to begin college. 

Back to the present.  Lida comes to see Johan.  He asks her for the truth about how Oeroeg's father died.  Lida tells him that Deppoh saved Johan.  But then Johan's father dropped his prized watch in the water.  Deppoh dived in to retrieve the watch.  They found him dead and they decided that Deppoh died a hero.  She also tells him that Oeroeg did not kill Johan's father.  Johan says he saw the killer in the woods that day.  Lida tells him it couldn't have been Oeroeg because at that time he was in jail. 

Johan is taken by truck to a place he does not know.  They are trading him for a group of Indonesian prisoners of war held by the Dutch.  As Johan passes the prisoners coming from the other direction, Oeroeg and Johan see each other and stop to talk, while people from both sides are yelling at them to keep walking.  They start walking in opposite directions, but Johan runs back to catch up with Oeroeg.  He gives him his father's watch.  Oeroeg says they will always be brothers.  Now they both start walking to their respective sides.

"It took two more years of battle and talks before Holland recognized Indonesian independence in 1949."

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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