Thursday, July 07, 2011

Terrorist Chic

I'm going into low content mode for a while. I'll be reprinting some short movie reviews from another, long defunct blog, including this mathom from 2005.

So what makes a suicide bomber do what they do anyway? That's a question at the heart of The Terrorist (1999, directed by Santosh Sivan) a film that follows the last week in the life of a suicide bomber. It examines both the pressures that have made her what she is, and the countervailing pull of basic humanity. It makes for a startling drama. On the one hand are her militant handlers, all of whom are intent on easing her into her role as a fanatical assassin. On the other hand is the old man who owns the house where she is staying until her appointed time. The old man is the voice of reason and conscience in the film, the face of decency and good will towards fellow human beings. More of the events of the movie I will not describe, because it's best for a first-time viewer to know nothing more, but I will state that it's fascinating to watch a narrative arc in which every moral issue starts as a crystal clear, black and white certainty, only to dissolve into a quagmire of moral ambiguity. Most movies about assassins make the audience complicit in their crimes. This one is quite the opposite.

On the whole, the film functions as an allegory for the terrorist impulse: there is no specific ideology espoused by the film or its terrorists, nor does the film specify a geographical location. We can make some assumptions, though. The director, Santosh Sivan is from India (though this film is very far indeed from standard Bollywood cinema). The film was shot in Sri Lanka (which has been embroiled off and on in a long civil war). The details of the plot resemble the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi. These details are provocative, but the film resists them, much to its benefit. In the years since this film was made, the reticence of the filmmakers has worked a change on the film's relevance. As more and more terrorists take up their various causes, this film's terrorist becomes something of an everywoman. As a result, it's a film we NEED more than ever.

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