For those viewers who are wondering whether this is a pro suicide bomber movie or not, I can say that it may depend upon who's doing the viewing. Director Hany Abu-Assad, who is a Muslim was born in Nazareth, which is a largely Christian city in Palestine. He moved to the Netherlands when he was a young man and currently lives in Los Angeles. He believes the film presents "an artistic point of view of...[a] political issue."
I tend to agree. The proof perhaps is in the fact that some Palestinians feel the film wasn't fair to their situation while some Israelis feel that the film glorified suicide bombers. Both sides can find evidence in the film to support their point of view, and the arguments can become heated.
Personally I find suicide bombings abhorrent and counterproductive. My belief has long been that the Palestinians would further their cause through a non-violent approach similar to methods used by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Using your children to kill other people's children while committing suicide is not only morally wrong, but not likely to win the hearts and minds of people who can help you. Furthermore the idea (expressed in the film by the suicide bombers and those who exploit them) that some people are superior because they are not afraid to die demonstrates a limited understanding of human nature and ignores history. The Japanese used suicide bombers in World War II for example to no good effect. And those men were not the "humiliated" and "oppressed" uneducated youths typical of suicide bombers in the Middle East. Instead some of them were the cream of the young manhood of a growing nation. Understand also that if the United States had the need it would have no trouble persuading countless Americans to commit suicide for God and country. Some of the combat missions in the Pacific Theater amounted to something close to suicide. No single people have a monopoly on tribalism.
What Hany Abu-Assad shows in the film is that the justification for suicide bombing is at best suspect and at worse without any merit at all. "What happens afterward?" one of the bombers asks, and is told, "Two angels come and pick you up." This is not merely satire, it is a burlesque of the "Paradise Now" reasoning. Indeed the title of the film is itself satirical and ironic. Young men seeing this film will notice that it is THEY who are being used as suicide bombers, not the political leaders and the imams. Also the scene in which the suicide bombers make the obligatory video saying goodbye to family and friends and "I did it for God" with automatic rifle held on high, was played as farce, revealing the empty promise behind being used.
The fact that most of the anti-suicide rhetoric in the film comes from Suha (Lubna Azabal) who is the daughter of a privileged Arab and onetime opposition hero is seen as significant by some because in Arab/Muslim countries the political opinion of women is of scant value, and therefore Suha is seen as expressing a minority or discredited opinion. However, since her expression is so very well articulated and persuasive, it can be seen from the opposite point of view, as expressing reason and moral truth.
Hany Abu-Assad of course had more than an artistic intent in making this film. Clearly he wanted to put the tragedy of the Palestinians upon the silver screen (and DVD) for all the world to see. To be effective he realized that he could not poison the waters of his expression with subjectivity and one-sidedness. He had to work hard to be as objective as possible and to present both sides of the argument. That way his film would be viewed and discussed, and some sympathy and understanding might develop. He had to show suicide bombers as living, breathing human beings. Notice that the two depicted are relatively intelligent young men, not mindless robots.
I share with Abu-Assad the belief that if all the facts about what is happening in the Middle East become widely known and understood (in so far as it is possible to understand the lives of people living in different cultures thousands of miles away) this knowledge and understanding would help to bring about positive change. Ignorance is our only real enemy.
In short, Paradise Now is a work of art and an excellent film that clearly deserved its Golden Globe Award as the Best Foreign Film and its nomination for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film. Kais Nashif who plays Said, one of the bombers, and Ali Suliman, who plays the other, both do an outstanding job, particularly Nashif who manages to combine the look and feel of a disadvantaged youth with the strength of character of a young man who is determined to follow what he ultimately determines is his fate. His motivation goes beyond the ignorant and indoctrinated suicide bomber who is hoping to be rewarded with virgins in heaven. He has personal reasons for becoming a suicide bomber. He is the son of a man who collaborated with the Israelis, and consequently he feels that his fate is to compensate for what his father did.
The film was shot in Nablus and Nazareth and captures some of the atmosphere. The editing is crisp and the story unfolds clearly with a nice tension. The sense that the bomb around the bomber's waist could go off at any moment is one of the devices in the film that maintains that tension in a unique way.
All in all this a film very much worth seeing regardless of how you feel about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.