As an anthropological archaeologist working in Albania, I have noticed that American students often joke about being “taken” while there. This is, of course, a direct reference to the movie “Taken,” starring Liam Neeson that came out a few years ago. We usually reference the movie (which depicts Liam as a good guy and father who goes through great superhero lengths to save his daughter from the bad sex-trafficking Albanians) whenever people are late to dinner – thus generating laughs from everyone. So, I recently went to the movies to watch the sequel, “Taken 2.” Admittedly, I was looking forward to seeing parts of Albania itself on the big screen, along with hearing the spoken language. As an Albanian-American, I simply thought it’d be cool to see Albanians on the big screen. Although I knew that the Albanians would be the bad guys, I was curious about how aspects of Albanian culture would be portrayed.
In the opening scene, the bodies of the dead Albanians (from part 1) arrive (presumably) in Tirana, Albania, the capital, where they are then driven up north to the mountainous district of Tropoja. The bodies are laid in graves and a funeral service commences. Naturally, I assumed that it would be a Catholic ceremony, particularly since Tropoja is home to very proud and extremely devout Catholics, and because the infamous “Marko” from part 1 seemed to be Catholic.; Marko is a Catholic, not a Muslim, name. I was wrong to assume and, frankly, stunned when I discovered that the men were being buried via an Islamic ceremony! This obviously begs the question: Why did Hollywood think it necessary to Islamicize these characters? Would it have hurt the plot if the bad guys were portrayed as Catholics? Perhaps they thought it would seem more realistic, and scary, if an ungodly Muslim (read “terrorist”) came to snatch one’s daughter?
The “Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit” is a centuries-old written and oral code of honor that Albanians have traditionally relied on in order to help regulate and maintain social relations with each other. In the Kanun, when men (key word here: men) find themselves in a blood feud, they exact revenge on either each other, or on the other man’s son/brother/father/nephew… (…you get the point). Women are never the targets of a blood feud (or at least are not supposed to be). In “Taken 2,” however, the bad guys vow to do bad things to the good guy’s ex-wife and daughter – something that simply would not happen in real life, again, according to the Kanun.
At the end of the movie, after all the Muslim bad guys had been single-handedly whacked, the good guy stands face to face with his evil counterpart. The good guy essentially offers the bad Albanian guy a choice: either 1) choose to live out the rest of his life with his remaining son in Albania by giving the good guy his word of honor that he will never go after him and his family again; or 2) die, which would then leave room for the bad guy’s remaining son to exact revenge on the good guy and his family in the future, thus perpetuating an ugly, deadly cycle (and allowing for a “Taken 3”). The bad guy thinks about this for a moment and nods his head, thus giving his “word” to the good guy. I thought that this part of the movie was really cool because it was an opportunity to show the world something that Albanians pride themselves on: keeping their word. We call this “besa,” an oath or promise. An Albanian would rather die than break a besa. There are literally very few things that Albanians cherish, respect, and honor more. Period. But wait… the good guy drops his gun to the ground and turns to walk away. A few short seconds later, the bad guy retrieves the gun from the floor and pulls the trigger in an attempt to kill the good guy – only to find that the good guy had emptied the gun chamber. Stunned, the good guy turns back around, walks up to the bad guy and kills him with his bare hands. The Albanian bad guy was killed because he didn’t keep his word. He broke his besa.