Sunday, January 22, 2006

Paradise? How?

I saw the Palestinian suicide bomber film Paradise Now a few weeks ago and I've been wanting to write about it ever since.

First I thought I'd take a few days to let the film sink in. It's not an easy film to get a handle on, particularly if you live where I live and think about the things I think about. There may be people out there who can view this type of film primarily on the art/film/drama level, but I'm not one of them.

Then the film wins a Golden Globe award and I start reading about it everywhere.
Especially here.
Then this happens, and I start thinking I may be better off finding something else to write about, like maybe Spielberg's new film.

But it hasn't opened in Israel, as far as I know, so I'm back where I started.

The film begins at an Israeli checkpoint and ends on a bus in Tel Aviv. In between, two guys from Nablus are recruited by an unnamed Islamic terror group to carry out a suicide bombing against Israeli civilians. The film shows how the terrorists prepare the two bombers for their "mission" - everything from their baths, haircuts and last suppers to posing for their "shahid" posters and recording video taped messages for their families.

There is no doubt that the film "humanizes" the bombers. There are scenes in the second half of the film that would make anyone feel for one of the bombers. The terrorists who sent him seem to have abandoned him with a bomb still strapped to his chest and a warning not to try to remove it. The bombers seem like nice guys, the kind that would help you move or lend you their car in a pinch. They also believe the Palestinians have tried every peaceful means of improving their situation, and since nothing worked, suicide terror is legitimate.

There is one strong character who is opposed to terror. But she grew up in the West, enjoys foreign films, and her father was a big terror hero who died in a blaze of glory. Her argument is that the bombings are ineffective for the Palestinians. She doesn't seem to realize they are also morally repugnant. No one in the film expresses an ounce of empathy for any Israeli. In fact, that's the problem with the film. It humanizes terrorists and dehumanizes their victims. Maybe one is necessary for the other.


Three weeks after seeing the film, one scene continues to intrigue me. It's a small scene and I'm curious about the director's motivation for including it. The scene takes place in a cab. One of the bombers (before he sets out on his mission, and possibily before he was even recruited) needs a ride from one side of Nablus to the other. During the ride, the cab driver tells him - with no irony whatsoever - that Israelis are poisoning the water supply in the West Bank to lower Palestinian sperm counts. But since he's such a strong man, the driver says, the poison hasn't affected him. He has five children.

This scene has so many dimensions, I feel like it's a key to the entire film. On the one hand, the driver has no doubts that Israel is poisoning his water in order to lower his sperm count, ostensibly to bring down the Palestinian birth rate. On the other hand, he has five children. If people really believe Israel is capable, technologically and morally, of carrying out such a plot, is it surprising they would have trouble empathizing with the Israeli victims of terror?

I don't think the director included this scene to accuse Israel of poisoning the water. I think he was criticizing the Palestinian mind set that allows them to maintain victim fantasies that reach such a level. He's painting a portrait of life in Nablus, and it includes people who spread these stories and other people who believe them.

Interestingly, the driver doesn't see the fact that he has five children as evidence that the story may be false. In the driver's mind, the story is obviously true, but he, with his superior strength, managed to overcome Israel's plot.

And that, ultimately, is the main theme of the film. To the Palestinians in Paradise Now (if not necessarily the real Palestinians), pride trumps truth. And that leads them to make horrible horrible decisions.


At 6:11 AM, Blogger mnuez said...

Oh man, I had sufficient pleasure with Spielberg's brilliant movie to last me a while. I mean, if Paradise Whenever comes my way I'll rubberneck it but I'm not quite in the mood for such a pleasure.

I gotta tell ya, it's So amazingly frustrating to know Jewish history as I do and to see all of the upcoming events before they happen but not to ber able to do anything about. I have parallels for the Spielberghs et al. from a hundred years ago, five hundred years ago and fifteen hundred years ago. I know Jewish folly and I understand gentile hatred and there's really nothing I can do to stop the next roll of massacre coming our way.

Kinna Sucks.

So far as betting are concerned btw (apropos to your post on the silent-jam blog), I offered a co-worker a bet today re: the next massacre of Jews. I'm defining said massacre as the "purposely intended deaths of at least 5,000 Jews within at most a 6 month period" and the bet would be on which group of people are the cause of said massacre.

He's a sensitive soul and didn't feel like playing but I think there's big money to be made here against the second-hand-staring folk whyo doubt that any such thing will happen at all. THEIR BLINDERS CAN BRING YOU FISCAL ADVANTAGE!

If it takes place within the next 13 years I'm going with Iran, otherwise I'm gonna have to say that it'll be taken care of by either locals (formerly known as "Israeli Arabs") or by some international group of folk that's At Least as non-muslim as it is muslim.

Hopefully I'll be one of the surviovors so that I can still cash in.


At 8:24 PM, Blogger tafka PP said...

When I saw that scene- one of the more humourous in the film- it also reminded me of being told (by a Palestinian colleague) that there were no drugs in the West Bank until "The Israelis" brought them in and got everyone addicted.

This is a woman with 3 degrees. When I questioned the validity of such a sweeping statement (just from a theoretical perspective about subcultures) she was really insulted. I think you are onto something there about how pride trumps truth.

Finally, I don't think it is reasonable to say that there is only one character who is opposed to terror: The woman you mention is the strongest voice and is portrayed as an "outsider" to some degree, but there are many other voices too, including, most pertinently, one of the would-be bombers, who definitely also delegitimises suicide bombing by refusing to take part in it.

At 10:03 PM, Blogger Kalman Rushdie said...

AFKAPP - You have a point about the woman not being the the ONLY character opposed to suicide bombings. That's definitely an overstatement. But even the would-be bomber's motivations aren't clear. He could have been frightened or lost his faith in the terror group after his first experience with them. I don't remember for sure, but I think his reason is because he believes the woman may be right. But the bottom line is that no one, not even the woman, questions the morality of the act. That's a statement in itself.

Next time you go to one of these types of films, give a call and maybe L and I will join you. I saw Paradise Now by myself (L couldn't make it) and was dying to talk about it with someone, but no one I knew had seen it.

At 10:05 PM, Blogger oishkapipik said...

Kalman, first of all good to see your badk!

Are you put in one of those situations where you actually hope the bombers pull it off? Meaning when they go buy the checkpoints are you hoping they make it past and stuff like that?

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Kalman Rushdie said...

Oish - Thanks for the kind words. It's good to be back.

I don't remember ever hoping the bombers "make it," but I did kinda like the guys and I didn't want bad things to happen to them. That's why I say the movie humanizes people who are prepared to do carry out inhuman acts.

But the bombers only have the bombs on for a small portion of the film. There is some drama and even a bit of humor surrounding that. In the prep period, one of the bombers has to do his whole dramatic speech for the cameras two times because the camera wasn't working the first time. When he begins again, the other terrorists start eating their sandwitches. It may not sound funny but it works in the film.

But ultimately, when there is a real chance that something bad is going to happen, you never really root for any of it.

At 1:20 AM, Blogger tafka PP said...

Kalman- definitely!

Also- just to add to your answer to Oish's question, I never rooted for them, as it were, was just relieved when they didn't carry out their bombing, but was very scared for Tel Aviv by the end, as opposed to for "Sa'id".

I posted about this too, when it won the Golden Globe... I already feel a bit differently since I wrote then.

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Kalman Rushdie said...

I was also much more concerned about Tel Aviv and the people he would kill than the bomber himself at that point.

When I say I didn't want back things to happen to either of the bombers, I didn't mean the harm that would come to them from the things they chose to do themselves.

But when they had the aborted mission and Sa'id failed to get back in time and was stuck with the bomb, I was rooting for him to survive at that point. Not so that he could try again, but because no harm had been done, so he should just move on.

At 4:45 AM, Blogger oishkapipik said...

hay Kal! this one blog every two weeks thing is just not going to cut it!!

At 1:56 AM, Blogger Ari said...

Kalman - I'm trying to raise some awareness regarding the topic of my last blog posting. Here's the link:

If you could post this on your blog and pass this along that would be great.


At 1:58 AM, Blogger Ari said...

Tide Turner - I'm trying to raise some awareness regarding the topic of my last blog posting. Here's the link:

If you could post this on your blog and pass this along that would be great.



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