Sunday, December 04, 2005

Paradise Now: Pathology and Empathy

Paradise Now makes a crucial amendment to Alfred Hitchcock's theory of suspense: instead of just having a bomb blow up, Hitchcock suggested showing the bomb under a table, and then going back to the unknowing characters; Paradise Now finds the explosives strapped to a human being, wandering throughout the West Bank. Two Palestinian friends, dressed in formal black and white business suits, cross the border into Israel with explosives beneath their clothing. Israeli forces, however, are waiting, and the two friends split-up. One reunites with the Palestinian underground, and the other wanders the West Bank unsure of whether to continue with the mission or call it off.

The image of their suits, donned especially for the mission, is a fitting point of departure for such a story, since Paradise Now is primarily concerned with the ritualistically of martyrs: the suits, which contrast greatly with the protagonists typical jeans and t-shirt, signal to their friends and family as to their deadly mission, which had been kept a secret.

By the film's end, the situation is as divided as ever. Some characters are for, and some against, completing the mission. The mission's importance, in context, is ambiguous: its futility is acknowledged--it will change nothing--but the larger concept of resistance is a history that the characters have inherited and wish to pass on. (The quote from the beginning of Fassbinder's Fear Eats the Soul comes to mind, "It is better to make new mistakes than to perpetuate the old ones to the point of unconsciousness.") While avoiding taking sides, Paradise Now is clearly not neural, choosing pacifism over action, but it is respectful, as well as empathetic, to the traditions and histories of radical groups, be they called the resistance, freedom fighters, or terrorists. Their pathology, while never fully embraced, is never compromised.

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