Directed by Musa Syeed
Released October 21, 2016
The word “stray” can have many meanings. Used as a noun, it indicates someone, person or animal, who is no longer part of wherever it is they came from, often also called homeless or friendless. As a verb, it means to wander or to go astray, sometimes from a religious course. The new film “A Stray” tackles every possible meaning, following a Muslim refugee from Somalia in Minneapolis who hits a stray dog and then finds himself with a new pet and nowhere to go, unsure of how to get back to where he and his new friend belong.
Adan (Barkhad Abdirahman) shouldn’t necessarily be described as a troublemaker, but he doesn’t always do the right thing in a given situation. After his mom kicks him out of the house, he is quickly thrown out of his new living space after offending his friends. Moving into the mosque seems like a smart idea for this devout Muslim, but it doesn’t take long for him to become saddled with a dog that isn’t deemed pure enough for the mosque, sending him again on an unknown path. There are plenty of places for Adan to go from moment to moment and day to day, but it’s hard for him to know where he’ll eventually be able to end up and know that he can truly stay.
Throughout Adan’s journey, there are many things that come into question. One thing that does not, however, is his faith. Adan might be a stray in so many senses of the word, but even though he is not permitted to stay in the mosque, he remains tethered to a strict observance and a connection to God that keeps him going. He half-jokingly asks if the dog is Muslim when he has food to feed it, and takes the legal aspects of his religion seriously even when his actions don’t reflect the same forethought and purpose.
Abdirahman, not to be confused with his fellow real-life Minneapolis Somali immigrant and Oscar-nominated “Captain Phillips” costar Barkhad Abdi, brings a sincere authenticity to Adan that makes him especially human. He’s far from the most formidable protagonist, but he represents a new generation of immigrant who fits in much better than his parents and ancestors would have, not assimilating but still becoming part of the culture. This film doesn’t move too fast but slows down just enough to present a compelling portrait of a lost young man with multiple avenues towards redemption.