Monday, February 7, 2011

The Personal and the Political

For me, this one went from great to good in the last fifteen minutes. I thought that the way the personal and political intersect in places like the occupied Palestinian territories (a phrase I use advisedly) was handled pretty masterfully up until the end (which I'll talk about in a second). The theoretical/political debates the characters had felt wholly natural, even in the extreme situations in which they found themselves. I recently rewatched The Social Network and found Sean Parker's "lives lived online" speech towards the end a little forced because I couldn't help but think "no one actually talks that way out loud." They write that way or speechify that way, but in normal conversation, if felt inauthentic (though on the off-chance Aaron Sorkin is reading this, I still love you and would like to go out). Paradise Now made me realize that for a lot of people, political arguments don't live in theory-land. They are desperately, perpetually, present. Along these lines, I thought the idea (as well as the character) of the suicide bomber managed to be both deeply symbolic and completely non-exploitative. The political IS the body in this movie, and to me, that feels very true for the historical moment of the film.

However, I did NOT like the articulation of this thesis by Said towards the end. That felt forced to me in a way that the rest of the movie didn't, and that reminded me of the Gault speech in Atlas Shrugged and Bigger's lawyer's endless closing statement in Native Son. I don't like it when things are said rather than demonstrated, particularly when I thought the rest of the film did a sensitive and nuanced job of showing rather than telling. I think the movie painted itself into a corner in a way, and I wasn't wholly satisfied with the resolution.

I haven't watched What Time Is It There yet, but I will put my vote in that this movie needs to be included in 1001. I think it would make an interesting pairing with Munich. I'm sure Nat and I will discuss the two together more, but I'd also like my brainmate's thoughts on one of the lines that I found really provocative: "The resistance takes the shape of the occupation." Do you think that's true? My first impulse is to say no--that there are a million ways to resist and most hegemonic regimes (not that I am in any way prepared to say that I believe Israel fits the bill, but that seems to be the argument of the movie) seem to be, at heart, sort of the same. But I wonder if that's true. Maybe it is so that the historical specificity of oppression does work in a dyad that shapes and is shaped by resistance. It's an idea I find really intriguing but in no way qualified to talk about intelligently. Your thoughts?


  1. Way to bring the hard question. I'm not sure re: "The resistance takes the shape of the occupation." I can see how that makes sense but I can also see how the resistance would need to take a completely different form.

    I hesitate to go either way, though, because, like you I feel in no way qualified to talk about such things. I also don't know anything about the Palestinian/Israeli situation as a whole--I have some basics but nothing I'd feel comfortable even repeating tentatively. We need a history/current world politics person!

  2. I meant to comment on this in my post and forgot.

    The literal last supper in the film mimics the painting in interesting ways that could be problematic.

    Here's a link to a still from the film:

    And here's a link to the Wikipedia article on the Da Vinci:

    So . . . . the suicide bomber who ostensibly blows himself to smithereens is Jesus. That seems to undermine the promotion of non-violence in the film.

    Khaled is John. And then Jamal is Thomas . . . what I can't see from the image (I'll have to go back and check the actual film) is who Abu-Karem would be (Thomas or Peter, I think).

  3. Would you look at that! Who is Judas? That does put an interesting wrinkle that Said is Jesus. But does it put another interesting wrinkle in that these dudes are Muslim? Does that problematize the whole metaphor in a way we're supposed to wrestle with? Maybe something about what happens when religion gets forcibly imported into another culture, the meaning gets twisted (so "Christ's" martyrdom, meaningful in the Christian story, is empty in this one)? And it's also interesting that you have these Palestinians in the seats of Jews. Hmmm. . . .

  4. I *think* just a random guy is Judas but I have to go back to the film--which probably won't happen today thanks to final papers being turned in :(

    It is an interesting wrinkle that these dudes are Muslim and Palestinian and in the seats of Jews.

    I don't know what we're supposed to do with it. It problematizes a lot and is problematized by a lot in the film but I can't figure out if it goes anywhere or if they just thought they should play with the Last Supper idea visually.

    I do like your idea of another religion's martyrdom being empty when forced. And that seems to go with the playing by the oppressor's rules thing! Said is playing within the context of the oppressor so he gets to be Jesus. But his martyrdom doesn't end up meaning anything other than another dead guy to mourn. He's not transported, he won't be resurrected, he won't be worshiped because Jesus doesn't mean anything in his culture.