21 April 2006 | anhedonia
Provides an interesting, albeit frightening, point of view
After watching "Paradise Now" and reading the reviews on this site, I had to ask myself whether those who hated this film saw the same movie I did. It is entirely possible to watch this film and not side with the two protagonists. Why? Oh, I don't know, it's called having a rational, open mind.
I never got the impression that the filmmakers were celebrating suicide bombers or condoning the actions of their two protagonists. What director Hany Abu-Assad attempts to do - and does it rather successfully - is show us the thought process that happens when people decide to do the unspeakable. We might not agree with the decision - at least, I certainly hope we don't - and we should be repulsed by what's happening. But the unmistakable truth is that these people exist and, whether we like to admit it or not, they firmly believe in what they're doing.
Being objective, or trying to be, and humanizing people like Said and Khaled in the film isn't necessarily bad. I realize it's awfully easy for our leaders to simply brand them as monsters and "evildoers" and see the world in purely as good and evil, a world without complexities, subtleties and contradictions. It makes them feel good to spoon feed us trite sound bites and most of us seem to be quite willing to accept their mindless platitudes, phrases and talking points without debate or even an iota of skepticism.
But when you humanize these characters, it makes them more terrifying. We realize they're not rabid monsters we can't know and understand. It makes what they do all that more alarming. When Bruno Ganz humanized Hitler in "Downfall" (2004), he didn't make Hitler any less evil; he just made us realize that a human being could be that horrible and, therefore, his actions were all the more despicable and frightening.
The American public - as much as it might not want to admit it - needs to be educated and learn about what makes people like Said, Khaled and their comrades tick. It's too myopic (and ultimately unproductive) for us to simply toss them aside as evil. Our ignorance of foreign cultures and religions, especially Arab and Islam, is staggering. The media must share some of the blame. TV networks are more concerned about young, white women missing than foreign affairs. World news in this country essentially is limited to the goings-on Iraq. That, too, barely penetrates the surface. Not when you have to cut to breaking news of a new "development" in Aruba or the latest on Brad and Angelina. Afghanistan barely gets mentioned anymore, even though the Taliban seems to be gaining strength in several parts again. (Then again, even the Bush administration seems to have forgotten about that place.) And then networks have the audacity to put on talking-heads to pontificate on shows headlined, "Why they hate us."
"Paradise Now" never asks us to support what the characters are doing. In fact, it provides a counterbalance to the characters by giving us a Palestinian woman who sees the futility in this enterprise. The film also never glorifies what these people are doing. It show us, and there's no implied endorsement of their actions. The acting is uniformly good and, above all, convincing. We may not agree with the subject matter and we should find the characters' actions loathsome. But that doesn't mean we simply brand the film as irresponsible.
This is the world we live in, whether we like it or not. And we owe it to ourselves to learn and comprehend how the other side thinks. What they believe and why they do. Doesn't mean we have to like it. But we sure need to understand it.