25 March 2009

Paradise Now

I've got mixed feelings about this movie, in that, well, it's not a great film. It's unabashedly political and slightly long-winded. It's not particularly gripping or moving, though it's well directed and the cinematography is quite good. On the other hand, I think it presents an important perspective. Whatever side of the political debate you fall on, I think it's important to at least get a sense of someone else's view of things. In this case, it's the perspective of a suicide bomber living on the West Bank.

The rhetoric of those who choose to martyr themselves for a political cause is generally portrayed as fanatical raving, basically empty words that take a prescribed form. This movie attempts to give that form content, to humanize it. It's a mingled success. Because so much of the film is political discussion, it doesn't quite flesh out the characters. You barely see their everyday lives - most of the movie is about what happens once they strap on the bombs. You get some sense of Said's motivations, but have very little understanding of Khaled's. On the other hand, they do have some very poignant things to say about the situation, and, like I said, I think some of them need to be heard. What's also notable in the film is the dissenting voice of the main female lead, Suha. The movie doesn't take a stand on the politics in any direction, it neither heroicizes nor demonizes the characters, which is also nice.

Still though, it's basically a short lecture couched in a film. It fairly straightforwardly addresses the issue, unlike the more subtle, creative take of Divine Intervention or The Band's Visit, which makes is somewhat less compelling. Still, it's a movie I'd like to show to the many people I know who assume that all suicide bombers are lunatics frothing at the mouth. Their actions may be incomprehensible, but  they're people after all. It's easy to forget, I think, when you're dealing with people who behave in extreme ways because of religion. Actually, this reminds me of another movie I quite like in this regard, God's Army, whose main protagonist is a Mormon missionary. It's hard to understand - for me at least - how people who basically pledge themselves to some kind of greater cause can be normal, doubt-plagued individuals just like everyone else, and movies like this are therefore all the more important for giving one a better grasp of what that could be like. 

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