Inxeba (The Wound) is the phallic symbol for all of masculine fragility
You don’t need me to tell you that Inxeba (The Wound) is a class act in triggering masculine fragility but I’m going to do it anyway via a character-by-character breakdown
If you’ve been following any of the backlash surrounding Inxeba (The Wound), the new film by John Trengrove and starring Nakhane (formerly Touré), you’ll know that there is two hands full of (Xhosa) men who think Nakhane should be hung by his testicles, flogged and left to bleed out to death.
In our capitalist world, success is determined by dollars and cents but the success of Inxeba is exactly the fact that there’s a bunch of men out there with ruffled feathers of fragile masculinity.
From Adam in the garden to Xolani (Nakhane’s character in the film), his love interest Vaji (played by Bongile Mantsai) and his over-eager initiate Kwanda (played by Niza Jay Ncoyini), dick has stood for a man’s virility but also his weakest point of contact.
It’s not a coincidence that this film is named The Wound. X (as Xolani is socially known in the film) is a quiet factory packer who regularly makes himself available to assist as a caregiver to young Xhosa men in attendance at initiation school.
When I watched the film last night, I could tell that almost the entire audience was comfortable Xhosa speakers. This meant they caught every reference to penis that Xhosa has vocabulary for (if you don’t speak or understand the language there are handy subtitles which like to refer to the English translation, ‘dick’.) I haven’t counted (I watched the film once) but ‘dick’ is definitely spoken a couple dozen times in this film. Interestingly, you never actually see a penis.
Here’s the thing. There’s this third leg between every man’s thighs that supposed to prove that he is in fact a ‘man’. But it’s a very vulnerable piece of paraphernalia especially when it is left with a willingly inflicted wound. And so therefore, it is kept hidden at all times.
X loves Vija. Vija probably has some deep-seated feelings for Xolani too but dude just wants to fuck (I’ve had a few people ask me if Nakhane bottoms or tops in the film so there you go). Vija is definitely married and, at the top of the film, tells X that his wife is expecting another child (the third if my memory serves me well). X says something about how he’s going to get his bosses to move him to Queenstown so he can be closer to Vija — a man he knows he could never truly be with. The two of them sneak off often in secret – for obvious reasons – to fuck. Whatever romance is going on between them will always be their secret love (thanks Luther). But X keeps going back. He keeps willingly going back to Vija who for all intents and purposes has him caught in a violent relationship. He keeps giving Vija money to support his family. He keeps willing inflicting a wound on his most fragile body part — his heart.
Vija is a dick (but we love him coz he’s sexy as fuck). Vija is trapped in the very cultural constraints he’s tasked with enforcing at the initiation school. But curiosity and vis-a-vis feelings don’t lie. There’s something about the way X looks at him that makes his pubes stand up. When X is tasked with looking after the ‘softboy from the city’ (Kwanda), Vija’s jealously piques. The fragile man that he is, possessiveness is part and parcel of his exercise of virility. He wants to break free from the definition of ‘man’ set out for him from time immemorial but he chooses not to. He wants to love X but only when he wants to and can therefore not allow him to love another but all the while choosing to play the role of strong, virile husband and caretaker of his family. He keeps willing inflicting a wound on his most fragile body part — his self-denialism and perhaps -hatred.
Kwanda got out. He lives in Johannesburg. His parents can afford to buy him an iPhone. He lives in a home with a swimming pool and DStv. But those very same parents send him back. For all intents and purposes, he’s become a ‘clever black’ and the special treatment he receives and the fact that he carries a demeanour of ‘above this’ (he insists on wearing sneakers while the other initiates walk barefoot) only serves to ostracise him beyond the point of rescue. ‘Clever black’ is a problematic term but he is black and clever and that’s his Achilles heel. He sees the way X looks at Vija. And though he never admits it (directly anyway), he wants X to look at him that way. So he shakes the table trying to pit the two secret lovers against each other. He chooses to cause trouble – X tells him to stay away from Vija and he disobeys him at every turn. He chooses to adorn himself with a nosering and walk around with sneakers. He chooses to grind on the other initiates during a drunken night by the fire. He chooses to abstain from declaring his newfound manhood as is tradition within the initiation school. He keeps willing inflicting a wound on his most fragile body part — his reasoning or the lack thereof.
Look. It’s not easy being a man. Even if there’s an entire cultural school dedicated to teaching you how and especially if there’s an entire cultural school dedicated to teaching you how.
All the wounds Xolani, Vija and Kwanda inflict on themselves only leave them weaker by the end of the film. Xolani takes a blow to Kwanda’s head with a rock atop a koppie which projects his body down a river stream. Vija ‘proves’ his manhood by beating up an initiate and ends up miserably returning to his prehistorically scripted life as the man of the house. Xolani takes Kwanda’s advice, after murdering him in cold blood, and moves to Johannesburg to ‘see the world,’ read: run away from the world he’s made for himself at home in the Eastern Cape.
If all you care about is action and seeing some ass, you’ll leave the film entertained. While we’re here, it’s worth mentioning one of the final and most beautiful scenes of the film at the waterfall. A baptism of sorts (there’s lives change after this), it sets the collapse of this love triangle in motion when Kwanda finds X and Vija spooning each other (X is the big spoon here if you’re wondering) naked on the forest floor after a round of passionate sex (also the last round they will have).
There isn’t a conclusion or answer to take home with you. Inxeba (The Wound) exists to be as provocative as Kwanda’s eagerness. It’s supposed to make men uncomfortable, challenge centuries old cultural norms and facilitate platforms of contemporary conversation. If for nothing else, Inxeba says this: I’m here to rip the bandaid off every man’s penis because the only path to healing is going through the pain.
If you’re trying to catch Inxeba (The Wound) now, it’s unfortunately concluded its Oscar nomination run. Yeah, it is that good. What you can do now is watch the trailer above and burn some imphepho after that so that it can win that golden statue and return to local silver screens for weeks on end.