For hot blooded youth, lack of a sense of identity and respect stokes the dormant fire raging within, leading to an explosion that reverberates for years before it dies down. And before it does, it consumes thousand others in internecine conflicts of revenge, hatred and isolation. Places like West Bank (Israel-Palestine), and Kashmir are breeding grounds for such disgruntled youth, who, disillusioned by the bloody conflicts and lured by the promise of heaven and redemption, seek glory and respect in martyrdom.
Said and Khaled are two such disgruntled youth who have been working at a garage fixing cars while their own lives are going on rather mechanically in the 2nd gear. At the first glance, they seem to be two mundane men with mundane jobs leading a mundane life in a mundane city (Nablus in West Bank). Not really thrilled with their occupation that includes haggling with moody customers, they seem to be waiting for something to happen while they spend time smoking hookahs, sipping cold tea and listening to borrowed tapes. There is nothing unusual about their lives.
Not until the news they are waiting for arrives…
Said and Khaled have been chosen for a special retaliatory mission – blow up a bus full of Jewish people in Tel Aviv and aim at maximum impact. With explosives strapped to their bodies under their expensive looking tuxedos, they both set out to execute their mission in the heart of the city. The plan is sabotaged because of an informer, and they both are separated as Khaled finds his way back to Nablus while a lost Said wanders around in the city before returning to his gang. Due to the unexpected turn of events, the plan is postponed to another day. After the heat has died down and plans begin to take shape again, Said reaffirms his dedication to the cause, promising to complete the mission to the mastermind and orchestrator of the planned attack, Jamal. He, along with Khaled, returns to complete the mission but things do not turn out as expected.
Hany Abu Assad captures the conflicts raging within two suicide bombers in a very minimalistic way – sans long reflections, religious brainwashing, weeping mothers or terrifying montage of blood-covered corpses. Infact, the movie proceeds in an understated, simplistic manner capturing the day-today life of two suicide bombers. The religious aspect (usually highlighted in such works) has taken a backseat – the leader of the gang is not portrayed as a Koran-quoting, gun-wielding cleric, pumping poison into the minds of the two naïve characters, but a methodical guerilla fighting for a cause. Assad has even thrown in innocent love, personal conflicts, and forlorn mothers in the cauldron of revenge to give it a more human touch. On top of it, he never gets into the details of gory pasts of the two characters too much (it is mentioned briefly in a scene); he simply focuses on the journey of two men looking for glory, willing to pay any price for it.
Like his story, his characters aren’t complex either - Said seems to be pensive, quiet and mature. His impenetrable tranquility alludes to a certain acceptance or compromise he may have made in his life. His attraction for Suha – a practical and modernistic daughter of a martyr – is the only thing that makes him seem vulnerable except for his deep camaraderie with Khaled. The only time he loses his cool is when he argues with Suha about choosing honor above all, as she tries to put some sense into his head in vain. She seems to be the only one who believes that violence only breeds more violence, and there is no honor or redemption in killing innocent people. She tries to point the drive home that the heaven he seeks is only “in his head”.
Despite their ideological differences, they are in love – the way they look longingly at each other and share a farewell kiss becomes the only communication of that “puppy love".
Khaled has a lackadaisical, almost rash approach to life. He is comical and silly, but more real of the two. He wavers in his decision, walks around frantically as if he is participating in a marathon, loses his cool and even teases his buddy about Suha’s affections for him. In another place, he could be a lovable buffoon who is unlikely to harm even an insect let alone innocent folks. He wants glory even though he doesn’t know what it is or how to get it. He is not even convinced that what he’s doing is the right way to go about it. But like Said, he’s been fooled into believing that it is the only way.
Both Said and Khaled are pawns in a game conceived by intelligent people like Jamal. I say intelligent, because Jamal and his likes make people like them believe they are fighting for a cause, while they comfortably watch from the sidelines without sacrificing anything of their own. Handpicking the goat to be slaughtered is their profession, Jamal and his men are opportunists who aren’t fighting for any cause – they are merely making it worse for their countrymen and the rest of the world. But everyone needs a job – theirs is promised as long as they find frustrated, impressionable men like Said and Khaled and send them to their funeral pyres.
Despite dabbling with such a somber subject, Assad hasn’t forgotten to add a touch of humor to this grim story. In a movie store, Said and Suha have a glimpse of tapes of Martyrs and Collaborators (sinners who side with the enemies during war or change loyalties) prior to their self- or forced execution. Upon being asked, the store owner tells them that the videos are up for sale, the collaborators’ videos priced more dearly than the martyrs’ since they are rarer to get. Even ideologies are up for viewing pleasures or entertainment. And at measly price too!
Another cracker of a scene is one in which their final words are being recorded for their families for post attack propaganda. After umpteen failed attempts on account of camera malfunction, Khaled and the cameraman finally manage to wrap up the shot, but not before he reminds his mother via the video about the best offer at some grocery store!
As much as it thrusts us in the dark realities in a conflict-stricken zone, this honest movie does not force you to take sides. It treats the subjects of repression and frustration but doesn’t endorse an extremist ideology. But it does raise some good questions, the answers to which shall vary depending on which side you are on – Is Israel the oppressor and Palestine the oppressed? Maybe. Sympathies for Said and Khaled? Yes. Is Suha’s viewpoint valid? A resounding yes. Is honor important? Of course! Is the course of action justified? DO NOT KNOW…
Ruha asks Said what “genre” a movie based on his life would belong to. If I had my say, I’d say STARK REALITY. Perhaps the same goes for this insightful movie as well. Only God knows how many shall sacrifice their lives in the names of religion, injustice and vengeance, before everyone realizes that no matter where the next bomb explodes, everyone dies a little. Paradise Now is a reminder of that.