Paradise Now directed by Hany Abu-Assad is the kind of film that reminds one that the story we hear in western media is but one story, and an aggregate political one at that. It is not the story of individuals–of the people living in the midst of daily conflict, of occupation, oppression, and fear. This film struck me with its humanity as it told the story of two Palestinian childhood friends who one day were chosen to embark upon the unthinkable. Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) grew up together in a West Bank refugee camp, and endured a life of limited movement, check points, intimidation, antagonism, and humiliation. The film, while adopting the perspective of Said and while arguably “pro-Palestinian”, seems to move beyond the typical political platitudes and gets past the polarizing effect of similar films. Instead Paradise Now gives us something more authentic–an honest view of what happens to lives under the pressure of occupation. The film offers insight on what drives a person to self-destruction as a final futile attempt to live a life of dignity.

At the start of the film, Said and Khaleb are selected for a suicide mission to Tel Aviv, which holds the promise of martyrdom and great honor. Over the next 36 hours, Said and Khaleb prepare for and embark upon their mission, only to have it disrupted long enough to ask the questions of their lives. In the scene embedded below, Said has just returned from the failed mission. Wanting to try again, he explains why he cannot return to the refugee camp.

Scene from Paradise Now

“A life without dignity is worthless.” That’s the premise that underpins Said’s argument in this scene. A life where dignity is systematically removed is made to feel worthless, a life without meaning, without hope, without home. Nashef’s performance is top-notch here and it is top-notch throughout the film along with support from Suliman. This film is artfully rendered and reminds us all that perspective is everything. What many have come to accept through mainstream western media does not fairly represent the stories of individuals (on any side of any conflict)–mostly good people in desperation to live good and free lives.