The political thriller, “Paradise Now,” is about a suicide operation in Tel Aviv. From a humanistic perspective Director Hany Abu-Assad presents sensitive subject matter through the lens of Palestinian life under military occupation in the West Bank. The film is the winner of the 2005 Amnesty International Award and the 2005 Blue Angel Award Best European Award. It was in the 2005 official selection for the New York Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. The film is playing in U.S. theatres nationwide.
While audiences attend the movie because they want to know why Palestinian suicide bombers kill Israelis, the film offers an in-depth look at the daily impact occupation has upon Palestinians. In the opening scene, Suha is at a checkpoint in the Jordan Valley, where armed soldiers inspect her bag and her I.D. On her way to Nablus there are roadblocks restrict peoples’ movement. The physical obstacles limit their access to daily life activities and economic opportunities.
The two protagonists, Khaled and Said accept the request to carry out a suicide operation together after an assassination. Although their suicide operation is the thrust of the plot, the focus is their lives under occupation and how it causes oppression – both economically and psychologically. While they sit on a hill and look at a sea of satellite dishes on flat rooftops of dilapidated buildings their future appears bleak. When Suha asks Said what genre of films peak his interest he shares that Nablus no longer has a cinema theatre because some of people, Said included, set it on fire after Israel denied worker permits to West Bankers. The people voiced their dissent through destruction because not having access to employment would devastate their lives.
People live in confined flats of multi-unit dwellings. The inside of Said’s house and Khaled’s house show their lives are simple. The peoples’ drinking water, polluted by Israeli settlers, requires Palestinian families to purchase water filters. Commercials for filters play on the radio and on T.V. While Khaled records his martyr video, Jamal eats food made by Khaled’s mother and watches him. Jamal is the suicide pusher who manipulates young men with overbearing attention and his interpretation of religion to react to Israeli violence with violence.
Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are surrounded by the violence of occupation and the people have suffered generations of injustice. For most Palestinians a strong relationship with God through prayer is their main source of survival. The people have not been treated with respect, equality and dignity, which lead to feelings of desolation. The desperate living conditions push some people beyond the brink of despair.
When some people reach this point they make personal choices based on their feelings. When Khaled sees the consumption of his mother’s food he realizes his video recording is a form of entertainment. During the second take Khaled mentions a cheaper brand of water filters, which detracts from the public entertainment aspect of the video. Although he intends to carry out his suicide mission, his family is on his mind.
When asked about his father’s limp Khaled explains Israeli soldiers broke his father’s leg during a home invasion. Before doing so the soldiers asked the father to pick the leg they would break. As a witness to this violence Khaled felt humiliation, and it plagues him into the present. The father’s physically disability is not only a constant reminder of what happened to him but remains a traumatic memory for Khaled also. Moreover, Khaled’s father symbolizes the traumatizing effects occupation has upon Palestinian men. Israeli soldiers try to degrade Palestinian boys and men in front of their families, and they feel powerless to help their families. While people walk outside dropped bombshells or gunfire can be heard in the distance. When Said was ten years-old his father was killed and Said feels shame because his father was a collaborator. When a customer at the car repair shop where Khaled and Said work remarks that Said’s father was crooked, Said feels he will continue feeling disgraced for life.
Although Said says his father’s death was not hard for him the plot later reveals it is one of Said’s most difficult problems. Said’s mother explains to Khaled that whatever his father did he did for the family. “Everything changes, except God,” she says. Said’s mother and Suha are strong female characters in different ways: Suha expresses her opinions candidly and Said’s mother has a strong presence. As a widowed, single mother she does the work of two parents to raise her children.
Although Said admires Suha’s martyr father, Abu Assam, Suha counters she would rather have her father still alive than be proud of him. Their father’s contrasting histories and their individual reactions to their fathers’ actions are in disagreement. As a result, their divergent opinions determine their perceptions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Although they have common ground on the concept of resistance, there is a stark gap in their courses of action for Palestinian liberation. Their life histories determine their political and religious beliefs, as well as their personal identities in relation to the conflict.
Suha was born in France and grew up in Morocco, while Said lived in Nablus his entire life. After Said accepts the suicide operation he returns Suha her car keys: her means to travel away from the conflict. When refugees think of keys they imagine the houses and land they lost in Al-Nakba – the Palestinian catastrophe that happened during the creation of the State of Israel. The Palestinian narrative is about their right to self-determination in their homeland, yet it has been denied by Israel and the international community for over a half-century.
The characters’ names have meanings that correspond with their roles in this story. Suha means “name of a star,” and she has lived her life at a distance from the occupation. Said’s name means “happy.” He finds it difficult to reach Suha, whether that means understanding her beliefs about how to resist the occupation, or having a relationship with her. Said longs for the paradise he believes he will arrive at if he carries out the suicide operation. Although Suha does not know about the suicide operation at first she is Said’s antagonist. When she expresses her thoughts about her father’s actions she evokes doubt in Said, which later transfers to Khaled. Suha’s conversation with Said challenged his beliefs until he is confronted with them as he stands strapped with explosives at a bus stop. While Said hesitates to board a bus filled with Israeli people, he sees a girl’s hand grasp the bus driver’s wheel. He is now faced with the truth: his suicide mission means the murder of human beings.
When Said returns to Nablus he looks for the militants who can disarm the explosives, but finds the location for the operation’s logistics dark and abandoned. The same table where Said and Khaled had their last meal is now bare. Faced with his mortality Said experiences suicidal anxiety and despair through the people he cares for most. Khaled and Suha find Said lying on his father’s grave, the part of his identity he has been grappling with for years. His father’s death is no longer in the deep recesses of his mind but at the forefront of Said’s hopelessness.
“Paradise Now” is a cinematic prism that contains a spectrum of social, political and religious facets formed together to expose a highly-charged issue. Abu-Assad explores diverse aspects of the conflict from the Palestinian perspective, including personal choices that lead to action and inaction. The film elicits a range of responses that depend upon where a person is standing.