Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Terrorist

(Theeviravaathi, India, 1998)

The “Cause” (unspecified; just a generic Cause) needs to assassinate an important politician in (some generic third-world country). The Fearless Leader can’t be bothered with sneaking up on the sonuvabitch and shooting him himself, so it is decided that a foot soldier should deliver a suicide bomb. Five young women are eager for the job. They are between 17 and 20, and each of them has already gone through 10 times more agony and seen 10 times more horror than I have endured or seen in my 61 years. Malli, the girl who is picked, saw her brother die. She is a fierce soldier; she kills two men in the first 4 minutes, with a pistol and a machine gun. Later, she hacks a soldier to death with a machete. She is taken to a farm house to be trained, and to wait for the right moment. Training is a breeze, anybody could do it, even the Fearless Leader. But they shouldn’t have given her all that time to think …

You may think that someone willing to walk into a public market filled with women and children, wearing 20 or 30 pounds of plastic explosive mixed with nails and other goodies strapped to his or her waist, is the lowest form of human life, but you’d be wrong. There is a form of human life lower than that. Lower than actual suicide bombers, pedophiles, serial killers, lawyers, and congressmen. Lower than members of the New York and California legislatures. I’m speaking of the people who wind up these “bombs with brains” and point them at their targets. I can think of nothing lower … or more cowardly. You can wait for the day you hear that one of the “leaders” of one movement or another has blown himself up, and you will wait until the universe burns itself out. They are yellow-bellied cowards to a man. Given the opportunity to put a gun to the head of one of these monsters and blow his fucking brains out, I would not hesitate a tenth of a second.

The director of this film was very wise in his choices. The country where this story takes place is never named. We don’t know if the insurgents we are seeing are of the left or of the right, and they are not fighting for any identified religious cause. It just isn’t necessary. It would have been easy to make the terrorists Muslims, because the vast majority of these atrocities are perpetrated by Muslims (though suicide bombing seems to have originated with the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka). But all these guerilla wars are the same, in the end. It is quite likely that the Cause these people are fighting for is a just one, that the people they are fighting are oppressive scum. Usually they are. (However, my reading of history tells me that, in the vast majority of cases, a revolution merely leads to the replacement of one set of scum with another set of scum, and the new scum is often worse than the old.) And yes, there is no real moral difference between a truck bomb or suicide bomber and a high-tech jet raining indiscriminate death on villages full of civilians. Revolutionaries are always underdogs, they don’t have air forces or standing armies, they are forced to use low-tech, down and dirty tactics.

But I don’t want to debate all that, and neither does the director. It seems to me that there is a discernable difference between a general sending his troops into battle (and make no mistake, if there was a button on my desk here that would result in the instant death of all generals, everywhere, I’d break my finger pushing it) and a revolutionary convincing a young person to blow herself up. This film looks at what it might be like to be primed and aimed like a guided missile. It stars Ayesha Dharker, who we first saw in a nice little film called Outsourced. The two films and performances could hardly be more different. This one unfolds at a dreamy pace, and is gorgeously filmed. As for the end … does she, or doesn’t she? I won’t reveal it, and will only say that it ended pretty much as I had expected it to, but that isn’t a bad thing.