It shouldn't have to be spelled out like this, but in today's political climate, you never know—so, just to be clear, deliberate attacks against civilians are an unmitigated evil. But the people who commit these deeds are still made in the image of God. So when a film like Paradise Now—a fictional story about two Palestinian suicide bombers—comes along, the viewer is torn between two impulses: on the one hand, you hope the film will allow the atrocity to be seen for what it is, but on the other, you hope it will allow the characters' humanity to come through, in all its dimensions, without reducing their situation to propaganda. The trick, for filmmaker and audience alike, is, as always, to love the sinner but hate the sin.
This can be especially complicated when the film focuses so narrowly, as this one does, on the persons who are planning to commit the crime. While this approach does allow us to get to know them as people, it doesn't necessarily allow us to get a sense of the broader political forces at work. Saïd (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman)—lifelong friends who have asked to be sent on a suicide mission together—occasionally allude to the fact that they are suffering for something that happened in their grandparents' generation, but what they mean by that, exactly, is never really spelled out. (Is it Israel's occupation of the West Bank, which was part of neighboring Jordan until the Six-Day War in 1967? Does it go back even further than that, to the creation of the Israeli state in 1948?) All that matters to them is that Israel is an oppressive occupying force that has shamed their people.
Shame is the key idea; as portrayed here, the suicide bombings have little tactical ...1
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