“Paradise Now” is a 2005 film surrounded by controversy, and rightfully so. The movie means to humanize suicide-bombers, a topic that is tragically relevant in the wake of recent Boko Haram bus station attacks.
The movie follows two close friends who are recruited to bomb Israeli citizens and military personnel as a way to inspire opposition against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
Whatever your views on the issue at hand, the filmmakers intended to transform their audiences’ perspectives from “black and white” rhetoric to an understanding of suicide bombers’ humanity.
And our protagonists, Said and Khaled, are certainly human. Said is level-headed and skeptical, while Khaled is more theatrical and spontaneous, losing his job as a car mechanic after an outburst against a customer.
Both are family-oriented and God-fearing, far from the faceless destructors we might often associate with their ‘profession.’ Suicide bombing, at least in their eyes, is the last method available to an otherwise voiceless minority.
The film may evoke the viewer’s sympathy for its individuals, but it does not ask the same for the organization that binds them. Said and Khaled’s leaders are often depicted as manipulative, untrusting, and uncaring, relying on the sacrifices of their more obedient members. Promises of divine providence are dangled like a carrot in front of the faithful two, though it guides them to little more than self-destruction.
That “Paradise” is grounded in realism helps tremendously to make its characters and events more fact than fiction. There’s a minimal amount of the comical coincidences that often plague blockbuster releases, and a well strung together narrative leaves no plot-holes to be filled by the audience’s suspension of disbelief. The absence of a soundtrack leaves most scenes ambiguous, though the film finds plenty of other effective methods to convey tension and dread.
Historical fiction often has a common dilemma in earning their viewer’s sympathy: to convey something pitiable without seeming an exaggerated melodrama. “Paradise” finds its balance in its dreary setting.
Imprisoning our main characters is the Palestinian city of Nablus, characterized by nearly-dystopian imagery. Buildings are cluttered with rubble, military checkpoints frequent the roads and city-wide silences are punctuated by distant fits of gunfire.
I’d suggest approaching “Paradise Now” with an open yet guarded mindset. The filmmakers aren’t exactly unbiased in their telling of this tale: the director has openly accused the wider Jewish populace of ignoring their own conscience and claims he would have taken up the role of suicide bomber should he have been raised in the Palestinian territory.
Still, often through the pleas of its relatable characters, the film brings plenty of viable talking points to the table, ranging from politics to philosophy. “How can the occupiers be both the oppressor and the victim?” “The occupation chooses the direction of the resistance.”
As political murders and atrocities mar international news, many of the character’s sentiments stay hauntingly topical: “Death is better than inferiority. That means whoever fights for freedom, can also die for it.”