January 21st 2006

  Buy Issue 2723

Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: B.A. Santamaria: the making of a political warrior

EDITORIAL: Unbalanced economy: the problems ahead

CANBERRA OBSERVED: The Coalition - a rocky road ahead for 2006

NATIONAL SECURITY: How Australia should fight terrorism

POLITICAL ISSUES: Muddled thinking in green politics and ecology

MEDICAL SCIENCE: D-I-Y abortion drug RU-486 endangers women's lives

CULTURE AND CIVILISATION: Western elites lack moral courage

The struggle against forgetting (letter)

Living standards and the labour market (letter)

A slogan for RU-486? (letter)

CINEMA: Paradise Now - Portrait of deranged killer as hero

CINEMA: C.S. Lewis tale brilliantly translated to big screen

BOOKS: JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH: His Life, His Politics, His Economics, by Richard Parker

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Paradise Now - Portrait of deranged killer as hero

by Len Phillips (reviewer)

News Weekly, January 21, 2006
The suicide of the West continues. I was reminded of this yet again by the film Paradise Now, a joint Dutch-Palestinian production that supposedly delves into the mind of a suicide-bomber.

Here you have in Holland the savage murder of a Dutchman, Theo van Gogh, for the production of a 15-minute film on the oppression of women under Islam. Bicycling down an Amsterdam street, he was shot, repeatedly stabbed and had his throat cut. A note was left pinned to his chest using the knife that was plunged into his heart by his Moroccan assailant.

The woman portrayed in this film remains in hiding, under 24-hour protection. Without this protection her life expectancy would not be 48 hours.

You may, however, be sure that a sympathetic portrayal of a suicide-bomber will not in any way threaten the life of its Dutch filmmaker, never mind his future career.

Awards aplenty will be bestowed on this and other such productions, where the mere assertion of oppression is sufficient to explain the morality of riding a bus with dynamite strapped to one's body, intending to kill as many as possible while giving up one's own life in the process.


There is no denying Paradise Now is a powerful film. The characters are well drawn and the viewer is interested in their tribulations. Other points of view are given expression, but the force of the story is relentlessly towards a portrayal of the suicide bomb as the appropriate means to achieve justice.

The most striking piece of filmmaking comes towards the end, and I think this is what in particular gives the film its power. Until that moment, the action had taken place in the grotty backstreets of Nablus. We are continuously presented with the depressed ambience of grinding poverty.

Suddenly, we are taken onto the beachfront at Tel Aviv, and are confronted by a hyper-modern city, glistening with chrome and steel. We are presented with a city of stupendous wealth, luxuriant beyond imagination. The contrast is overwhelming.

We know that the Palestinians are oppressed because the characters tell us so. We know the Israelis are their enemies because that is what the film's dialogue says. But the sudden presentation of the fabulous riches of Israel and the stark contrast with the impoverished life in the West Bank, is an astonishing moment.

It quite takes away the need for argument. Group A is rich; Group B is poor. What else do you need to know to demonstrate that A is oppressing B? Certainly nothing else is provided.

One hopes that such a film will explain the inexplicable and provide insights into why someone might become a suicide-bomber. What prepares one mentally for such a profound step? How does the world have to look so that killing many others along with oneself seems a reasonable thing to do?

This is anyway what I was hoping to find, and this was entirely denied. The weirdest moment in the film comes when the principal player, Saïd (Kais Nashef), is approached by the leader of his terrorist cell to let him know that he has been chosen to go to Tel Aviv the very next day and blow himself up.

For myself, I would have expected some reaction beyond an immediate "yes, mon capitaine". Perhaps that is what happens in real life. Perhaps a suicide-bomber is so psychologically prepared for his own death, that when his controller comes along on Monday and says that on Tuesday he must go to town and kill himself, the only reaction is an instantaneous embrace of his fate.


Could be. This is a world of infinite possibilities. Yet, if that is the case, why is it the case?

All the elements in Saïd's life would point in the opposite direction. He is shown to have a loving family, there is an attractive girl very keen on him, and he has a good job which he is very good at.

Moreover, if anyone has a reason not to die for the Palestinian Authority, it is Saïd, since his father had been murdered by the PA for collaborating with Israel.

Yet after much mulling, I felt that the film did say something. In part, it said something about the state of mind of those who become suicide-bombers since it became clear that Saïd was entering this line of work for personal reasons alone. He was determined to blow himself up to settle demons of his own.

There just happen to be some people who are willing to take this step, and some political situations in which they will be asked to do so. Finding such people before they strike, and hunting down their networks, has simply become one of the major tasks of governments across the world.

What else the film said was this: There are people in the West, such as the Dutch co-producer of this film who, for reasons of their own, hate the societies in which they have been born and are sympathetic to the deranged killers who live in our midst. Why this is so, this film also does not explain.

  • reviewed by Len Phillips.

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