Coming From Insanity is a story that “has been told exactly as it occurred.” This line greeted me before the film had begun, and it stuck with me throughout the 100-runtime. Writer/director Akinyemi Sebastian Akinropo’s debut feature is a Nigerian crime/thriller that follows Kossi (Gabriel Afolayan), a Togolese child smuggled into Nigeria and raised as a house slave to an upper-class family in Lagos. Once he becomes a young adult, Kossi uses his advanced intellect to make counterfeit U.S. dollars, which he exchanges for Nigerian Naira to become independently wealthy. He recruits a few friends to help produce the counterfeits faster, and their money soon circulates into a bank, where it is detected as fraudulent, and the police begin to investigate the criminal enterprise.
The film is both fascinating and frustrating. For one, it presents a layered story and tells it in a nuanced way. While filtered through the perspective of a criminal, he is not the antagonist. Kossi’s actions are portrayed in a balanced way, establishing that while what he’s doing is illegal, he only commits these crimes due to the widespread immorality and corruption he witnessed in the world. His very being in Lagos is a result of that. This subtle, stark indictment of the character and the world is quite unusual, and it gives a lot of credence to the claims of historical authenticity. Because of this, I was surprised there’s no mention of what happened to the characters at the end.
Beyond this nuance, the specifics of the narrative are a mess. The plot revolves around an ever-growing number of plot conveniences and deus ex machina to create drama, leaving most scenes feeling artificial. While Coming From Insanity claims the story is entirely truthful, it becomes harder and harder to believe that there wasn’t any embellishing of the narrative. One major place where this issue crops up is when Detective Hammed (Sambasa Nzeribe) is tasked with investigating who is printing the counterfeit money.
“…Kossi uses his advanced intellect to make counterfeit U.S. dollars…”
There is a scene or two of him working on the case, and then a crucial plot twist is revealed that essentially tells him that the counterfeiter is Kossi and generally where to find him. In that moment, all of the detective work is done for him in the name of plot convenience. Conveniences like that here do happen in real life, but they occur so much throughout the film, I began to question its authenticity, and my investment in the story and characters began wavering.
Another problem with Coming From Insanity is the underlying sexism that pervades its depiction of women. It is one thing to depict sexism and sexist characters and another to glorify or normalize the sexist acts of such people. The crime drama normalizes the objectification of women by downplaying the role of female characters. The only two significant female roles that aren’t objectified are largely relegated to plot devices, and the rest are merely objects of men’s desires.
The film is not deeply sexist, but it did normalize and glorify sexist behavior in a way that made me uncomfortable while watching it. The director missed an opportunity to show women in a more truthful way while also showing how many men treat women in Nigeria from a more sympathetic view. This is especially disappointing given the underlying sexism that pervades much of Nigerian media and culture, but it isn’t surprising.
Akinropo tackled a hugely complex and difficult story for his debut feature. Unfortunately, his lack of experience comes forth in the writing and directing of Coming From Insanity. He clearly understands the nuance of Kossi as a person, but he doesn’t afford that same dimensionality to all of the characters, creating a film that was simultaneously fascinating and frustrating.
"…presents a layered story and tells it in a nuanced way."