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Magnifying 'Paradise Now': A Movie Analysis

Updated on June 2, 2019
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Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

Paradise Now: A Movie Analysis

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Magnifying 'Paradise Now'


Paradise Now is a highly controversial fictional movie released in 2005 which had garnered numerous prestigious awards and citations for its attempt to show the horrors of life from a Palestinian perspective. It was shot and directed by Hany Abu-Assad with lead roles and characters played by Kais Nashif (Said), Lubna Azabal (Suha) and Ali Suliman (Khaled). What this movie did was show the world how things go about in the lives of not-so-ordinary men and women who would want the world to know the importance of life and freedom from external threats. Rooted in historic and religious turmoil, it exploits the possibilities and tendencies associated with the volatility of men under stress and lack of better opportunities and options. While the rest of the world may seem to enjoy the inherent freedom they have inherited from their forefathers, the lead characters have to fight their way through the pangs and fangs of their nemesis Israel. For this purpose this essay is written to highlight key elements and show evidences of principles and theories involved in the production and theme of the movie which can ultimately paint a clear picture of what the movie is exactly all about.

Social Power behind the Lead

Clearly, Paradise Now exploits the possibilities of revenge and drama behind the background of Nashif, Azabal, and Suha. The social power it wields can be felt in the gripping moments of hesitation to blow a bus-full of Israelis all because of single child’s innocent look. It also magnifies the essence of humanity over religion, history, and selfish human motives for the natural preservation of life as exhibited by the hesitations and eventual disregard to continue the mission of blowing perceived enemies indoctrinated by some shady leaders. Although the suspense part in the ending is quite observable in most movies especially among psychological thrillers and horror flicks, the viewers are left hanging the balance of whether it will be a tragedy or a comedy in reality.

The Principle and Theory of Social Power

Michel Foucault describes the importance of having a trained mind and perception best with the lines: "He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection" (p. 2). This only means that people who are always subjected to the same field of vision or line-of-sight will eventually develop a strong adherence or preference to such perspective. If a person who has never had any point of reference or comparison about a particular mind set will be constantly exposed to a certain ideology such as the doctrines of hatred between Palestinians and Israelis especially under prolonged exposure, the person will most likely begin to ‘assume responsibility for the constraints of power.’ The person then becomes the agent of that principle or perspective willingly and voluntarily acting on his own to uphold and defend that specific ideology. Some people call this brainwashing or psychological conditioning. However, this may sound true yet also inapplicable to all three important characters in Paradise Now.

Contradicting the Essence of Perspectives

Remember how Khaled had to hesitate and muster his courage to fight the urge and will not to set the bomb off in relation to the seeing of the young child? Think about what Suba had to go through in life knowing full well that her father was betrayed by the very people he had chosen to serve yet managed to appeal to the better nature of Nashif and Khaled. John Berger in his 1972 literary piece known as Ways of Seeing describes this vividly and simply with the line: “a large part of seeing depends upon habits and conventions’ (p. 12).” While this line may hold sway on many people who can be easily persuaded to do things even at some point beyond their will, the three main characters did not perform so as expected in relation to Berger’s expectations. Even if they have had much suffered from the circumstances they had not chosen, they still have the desire not to flip the switch and send innocent bystanders to smithereens. The idea that they chose not to, willingly and voluntarily, then becomes the crowning event of the movie or its major turning point. Suddenly, it was all about humanity and preservation; suddenly it was all about familial bond regardless of race, creed, and culture.

Supporting Write Up

In 2005, Howie Movshovitz wrote an article titled “Film Explores Suicide Bombers’ Motive.” From this short piece of literature, Movshovitz explores the depth and breadth of Paradise Now. First, he pointed out in the interview that film director Haby Abu-Assad has always wanted (through his own definition) to show the beauty of life through its many conflicts. The writer then gets to highlight the director’s real intent which the former claims to be the portrayal of suicide bombing as an ugly reality. The power of this entire movie can be traced in these simple lines: that suicide bombing is an ugly reality. Other elements of the movie’s production were also exploited and explained to a certain degree which seems to discredit the overall beauty of the film yet in the end Movshovitz had to bounce back and make amends by stating that “this is the essential point of "Paradise Now," that to understand any terrifying human struggle, people must endure the shock of confronting something they don't expect” (N.p.). The true beauty of Paradise Now can now be best experienced rather than merely seen, it must be felt and understood than merely watching through. Only when people endure the unbearable, try to understand the bizarre and odds, can people begin to see the real essence of the movie: not from a striking distance but from a thorough critical analysis of the how and why suicide bombing have to be done and for what consequences.

Of Changing Perspectives

John Berger wrote that “When we "see" a landscape, we situate ourselves in it. If we "saw’ the art of the past, we would situate ourselves in history; When we are prevented from seeing it, we are being deprived of the history which belongs to us” (p.11). Perhaps the only thing that is preventing others such as the viewers from the world from seeing the true reasons why there are suicide bombers is contained in those short lines. There are two possible reasons then: first, people do not situate themselves in the right area where they can properly see things from all possible perspectives; and second, other selfish and self-centered individuals with ulterior motive(s) may have intentionally hid the essential points which people should see thus they remain ignorant to this very day. However, the more complex question remains on where the perspectives are coming from and what are the real focus on attention in the line of sight. If the focus is on the three main characters, how should the one perceive them? If the focal point and area of interest is zoomed in on eventualities which have helped transform the three characters, how should people see them or it then?

Director Ousmane Sembane of the movie Moolade gives a subtle explanation on this when he mentioned that films have great power to transform minds of the people especially through the use of language in accordance to the knowledge of the viewers of that specific language used in a film. However, he also negates this by stating that mere subtitles rob the essence of a language since the emotional tone and diction are often removed considering that texts do not carry emotional content. So the perspective then changes since the emotional content is diminished or removed and individual and collective perspectives of people can redefine the meaning of a film. In that case, when Westerners who are against radical Islamic beliefs such as the suggested plot of Paradise Now conveys, and the mere subtitle would also reduce the true meaning of the spoken lines within the film, then there is really a need to reconsider what the true motive of Paradise Now would be instead of jumping into conclusions and merely arriving at a vague decision of what it is.

All the more confusing to the eyes and ears of viewers would be the doubt about all Muslim peoples and how they carry about their daily lives as a society as portrayed in the film. This is what Edward Said wrote on Orientalism. Said wrote that people are given a misconception about the lives of Muslim people and since the people who professed to have studied the Muslim way of life are mere researchers who have not directly immersed themselves in the entire Islamic culture, their perspectives will definitely become biased and nothing but based on Western principles. What Western writers say about Muslims are assumptions, and at limes lies, based on things they have no clear idea of. These outsider perspectives give Muslim people a negative image as portrayed by Western media and vividly shown in the movie Paradise Now (pp. 6- 9). Sadly, the same principles are pointed out by Dennison and Lim as they both show that Orientalism is only one aspect of how Western media demonizes the rest of the world. They highlighted key elements in Western movies especially mainstream ones such as produced in Hollywood which gives Asians a ‘bad twisted image’ (p. 3). In the case of Paradise Now, the same effects of Orientalism and portrayal of Asians as antique, short, uneducated, and undisciplined savages are always the common character suspects and villains.

Conclusion

All-in-all the director has done his own research and what he has to say can sum up all the perspectives for the movie that “they are very ordinary people who couldn't stand anymore to live under pressure the occupation and humiliation, and then they came to a conclusion that it's devastating, but still they are human beings who are being so much oppressed that they can't have good focus or make healthy decisions” (Movshovitz, N.p.). Sadly, he explained the harsh reality of suicide bombers: that they are victims of circumstances and exploitative individuals, that the victims are usually incapable to make sound judgment or decisions. In a sense, who can blame people who are mere victims of the things they have no control of? While viewers may find the movie appealing or disturbing, this is not the real issue. The real issue now is that whether there may be actions taken to ensure that such people can no longer become victims thereby thwarting the possibility to breed more suicide bombers.


References

Berger, John. (1972). Ways of Seeing: Based on the BBC television series. British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books. PDF. Pp. 5 – 27.

Dennison, Stephanie (Editor), Song Hwee Lim (Editor), (200). Remapping World Cinema: Identity, Culture and Politics in Film (Wallflower Press, London). Pp. 1- 5. Web. Retrieved from: < https://cdn.auckland.ac.nz/assets/arts/Departments/asian-studies/gjaps/docs-vol5/Gibbs-vol5no1pdf.pdf>

Foucault, Michel. (1975). “Discipline & Punish: The Birth of Prison,” Chapter III: Discipline. www. FOUCAULT.INFO. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 195-228. trans. Alan Sheridan (trans.,1977) pp. 1 – 11.

Movshovitz, Howie. (2004). “Film Explores Women’s Rights, Ethics in Senegal.” NPR 24 Hour Program Stream: Web.N.p. Retrieved from: < http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4113411>

Movshovitz, Howie. (2005). “Film Explores Suicide Bombers’ Motives.” NPR 24 Hour Program Stream: Web.N.p. Retrieved from: < http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4990904>

Said, Edward. (1977). Orientalism. London: Penguin. Pp. 1 – 16. Web. Retrieved from: < http://www.odsg.org/Said_Edward(1977)_Orientalism.pdf>

Paradise Now

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