Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hany Abu-Assad's Paradise Now

The importance in constructing a narrative around the contested identity of the suicide bomber lies primarily in the need to contextualize the phenomena within the historical continuum of a people's struggle for self-determination. That is, the very existence of suicide bombing in the larger context of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination is in itself a reason for constructing a narrative not only because it allows for better understanding of said struggle, but because in most cases it is used to discredit it.[1] This narrative, as presented in Paradise Now, is heavily linked to the main character's (Sayeed) melancholy following his father's collaboration with the occupier. While this does not by itself constitute a political act (in fact it removes the act of the suicide bombing entirely from the political realm) it serves to "suggest that there is no master narrative of suicide bombing" and that the melancholia that caused it is ultimately linked to the political realm because it is one of the "emotional precipitators" caused by status occupation.[2] Indeed, without the "imaginative and empathizing" process set forth by Paradise Now or its dialogue and contemplative manner of "condemnation that passes through understanding"[3], the viewer cannot determine the degree of their own complicity and involvement in the matter. [4]

But providing this kind of narrative for suicide bombings is not enough to achieve this effect on the viewer. Gana's call for the collapse of the spectacle, which in this context means the failure to present suicide bombings in a manner that is "pandering … to audiences’ unwitting lust for melodramas, intrigues, kinesthetic thrills, and technically sophisticated stunts, dazzles, or visual gags"[5] is what ultimately "uncoercively persuades viewers to suspend their judgment and begin [the process] of self-reflexivity, which might ultimately lead them to the discovery of complicity".[6] Gana provides two examples for this from Paradise Now, namely the breakdown of the camera while filming the farewell speech and the mention of the martyr video rental business. These two examples serve to demonstrate the collapse of the visual medium (film) with which the spectacle (of violence and terrorism), is linked, and by extension, the collapse of the spectacle itself.[7]

While Gana's essay brings up valid points both in terms of the spectacle and the contextualizing of suicide resistance in the historical continuum of narrative nationhood, it commits the fallacy of conforming to this same spectacle itself. For instance, the large portion of statistics regarding the Palestinian death toll from the intifada, through the 2002 Jenin massacre and all the way up to 2004 when Paradise Now was being filmed, which specifically breaks down the list of stats to children, women and elderly casualties, heavily dramatizes the issue only to diffuse it later by stating that Abu-Assad does not opt for this kind of dramatization.[8] Similarly, by referring to violations of human rights, mention of the International Court at the Hague, the European Region of Humanist International, the UN humanitarian fact sheet, the statistics about demolitions and the "facts on the ground"[9] it engages in the very illusion of mimetic realism that it later claims Paradise Now breaks down. In this sense, I am inclined to agree with the text's overall thesis, but at the same time am taking into account the fact that this thesis might not operate within the context from which it presents itself to be operating from, and is in some way hindered by the very elements which it criticizes. As such, it is essential to be able to consider Gana's work in a manner similar to the one that Paradise Now should be considered, that is, one that challenges perception while constituting politics.

[1] Nouri, Gana. “Reel Violence: Paradise Now and the Collapse of the Spectacle.” Comparative Studies of Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle-East, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2008, 25.

[2] Ibid., 34

[3] Ibid., 26

[4] Ibid., 37

[5] Ibid., 20

[6] Ibid., 37

[7] Ibid., 36

[8] Ibid., 29

[9] Ibid., 28-29