Set in Johannesburg, the capital of South Africa, 2005 film Tsosti follows a teenage gang member through six days in his life. The character, Tsotsi, has been numbed by the life he leads of petty crime and has become corrupted by the violence he has witnessed. A crucial event takes place during a successful carjacking when Tsotsi hears a crying baby in the back seat, and decided to . From this moment onward the audience sees Tsosti’s character evolve from murderous, uncaring and violent to a man with compassion for others and empathy for his own past.
Throughout the film we witness Tsosti’s dreams about his painful childhood and the abuse he observed growing up. In the flashback we recognize that his father suffers from alcoholism and appears to be a violent man. Tsotsi watched in horror as his father mistreat his dog, and this drove him to run away from home. Tsotsi joined the criminal brotherhood and hid his true identity by becoming “Tsotsi”, meaning “thug” in his native language. Similar to a mentally unstable patient that first presents a tough or barbaric exterior to cope with his traumatic past. Tsotsi no longer has use for past memories and therefore his conscience is absent.
Early on in the film, one of the gang members, Boston, confronts Tsotsi in the bar proclaiming he had no decency after the gang robbed and killed a man. Boston continues to show remorse and tries to scratch at Tsotsi’s hard shell, attempting to find understanding. Tsotsi reacted by attacking Boston, and beat him down before running out of the bar. As Tsotsi runs we see a flashback of a younger version of himself, running as well. Later we flashback again to the same young boy sitting in a pipe protected from the rain. Clearly showing that Boston had unleashed a repressed memory and aggressive behaviour.
A car pulls up at the gated home across from Tsotsi and a woman gets out to open the gate, Tsotsi advances with his gun pointed at her to steal the car. As he tries to drive off, the woman opens the door and he shoots her. As he drives off down the road, he discovers her baby in the back seat. Tsotsi scaled the car for valuables and considered leaving the baby but instead put the baby in a shopping bag and left the scene. These flashbacks start to appear more frequently after he receives the baby, and as he continues to try and care for him. It is this moment that we see the character have compassion for another being, and this forces him into a nurturing role.