The Limits of Palestinian Life: Paradise Now

By Daniel Garrett

Paradise Now
Directed by Hany Abu-Assad
Writers: Abu-Assad and Bero Beyer
Director of photography: Antoine Heberlé
Production designer: Olivier Meidinger 
Warner Independent Pictures, 2005

I imagine that I’ll remember Paradise Now for a long time. I’m not aware of anything that’s wrong with this film. It doesn’t seem like a work someone made; it seems like a reality someone discovered. Paradise Now presents Palestinian life with border guards, work conflicts, class differences, religious manipulation, ignorance, videos of political collaborators and martyrs, and the oblivion of other people living what they consider normal lives; and it features actors who are natural and very appealing. The film is about two young men—car mechanics and friends—who have agreed to be suicide bombers. It says a great deal about the film that the why of this becomes readily understandable: with the Jewish or Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the circumscription of Palestinian life, their freedom and possibilities are extremely limited. The task they undertake is for justice, but it’s a commitment they have come to because the lives they will leave behind are not themselves rewarding. We are already dead, they say more than once. Kais Nashef is Said, and Ali Suliman is Khaled. Lubna Azabal is Suha, a young woman recently befriended by Said; and the young woman is also the daughter of a local hero, and she, apparently involved in a human rights group, argues against meeting violence with violence. Paradise Now, directed by Hany Abu-Assad, presents the landscape in which the Palestinians are massed—its rocky hills, its trees, its poor neighborhoods—and shows some of the communal rituals—simple meals of vegetables, bread, and sauces; and smoking a water pipe. When Said comes home late, his young brother talks about how he would have been reprimanded if he’d come in that late; and when the same boy asks if his mother has used a new water filter—he says the water tasted better before—his mother tells him to turn off the radio he swallowed, meaning he’s too smart-talking. The mother (Hiam Abbass) is not young but she’s also not old and she seems, as such women often do, practical and wise (knowing but limited). Her oldest son Said does not tell her or anyone else what he plans to do. When Suha, who sees how the two friends have changed (hair cut, dressed in suits so they’ll look like Israeli settlers) she guesses their intentions and talks against such plans to Khaled, who says he prefers to die and find paradise, or to live with the paradise in his head, rather than live their terrible common reality, but she shakes Khaled’s assurance—and Khaled tries to do the same for Said. One of the fascinating things about the film is that these people do not speak of love, and yet there were times when I felt it—the love of mother and son, the love of the two male friends Said and Khaled, and the love of Said and Suha; and that’s an achievement. The film’s ending—an ending without the expected closure—is the right one.

Daniel Garrett is a writer whose work has appeared in The African,, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, Film International, Hyphen,,,, Option,, The Review of Contemporary Fiction,, and World Literature Today. He has written fiction, poetry, drama, journalism, and criticism; and his review of Paradise Now appeared as part of a long multi-part piece focusing on iconographic works, ideas, and personalities (, 2006). Contact: and