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Movie Reviews

The Terrorist  

The Terrorist is a film from India which explores the apparently outrageous notion of a trained assassin who also happens to be a fairly young woman, not even in her twenties. In the course of this film, she kills at least three people, and is in training to commit a suicide attack on an unnamed political opponent. True, she is a pretty scary chick, and very determined, but I think that the only thing outrageous is the fact that she is part of an underground terrorist/political organization. The teenagers over here who kill their classmates every second day or so just shoot people at random, for petty and selfish reasons; at least this girl has somewhat meaningful targets!


Okay, now that I've gotten that sick excuse for humour out of the way, I can concentrate on the actual movie at hand; a very impressive piece of work, a good examination of the life of a teenage terrorist, and of the chaos which surrounds a country where such an individual as her can actually stay in employment. The movie is a little difficult to get into at first, mainly because of the unique setting, but mostly because of the crappy subtitling, unreadable when merged with the bright hues on the screen. But after awhile the story gets very interesting, as we follow the days in the life of this terrorist, and are provoked into identifying with her.

Surely, we don't feel for Malli just yet; the very first shot consists of her shooting a supposed traitor in the head with a pistol, and then, only a few minutes later, killing an enemy at close range with a machine gun. (Later on, she completely butchers a guy with a huge machete, and thank god this film was obviously made on the cheap, or else we`d actually see all that gore which apparently would result after all this violence.) It's hard to really feel for somebody who commits these horrible acts, especially since she obviously feels no remorse whatsoever. But then the film plays a funny trick on us: it actually makes her human, and therefore, understandable, if not necessarily sympathetic. For one thing, she is not a leader, but a follower; merely one of many energetic subscribers to the cause, whatever that is (the film never makes it too clear who they are fighting against). Therefore, it is easy to say that she has been brainwashed, or at least convinced all too much that there is something worthwhile to this rebel group and their goals. In Malli's case, her brother died in a suicide attack, and there is a flashback to the funeral, in which members of the group tell her that he died honourably.

The real story involves what will be her last act: she will do her duty for the cause and become a suicide bomber herself, volunteering to assassinate an establishment journalist. Obviously, she's going to die, but that does not seem to deter her: she is going to be a martyr for her cause, and that is what's important. While she rehearses for the assassination, she stays in the home of an old man under the guise of a university-bound cousin of one of the men whom is also a member of the rebel gang. The old man has no idea about who she really is, and accepts her into his home, where his ill wife also lives, forever lying in a comatose state. Malli stays in the room of a photojournalist son who was killed a number of years ago. It is during this stay that she undergoes a crisis of faith, when she discovers that she is pregnant from a rendez-vous, revealed in flashback, with a man wounded by the "enemy" forces. What shall she do? Kill herself for a cause, only to kill her unborn child, and therefore, the possibility of a wholly different sort of life, along with her?

I said earlier that this movie practically goads us into identifying with this cold, ruthless killer. Certainly there is something tragic about a young person robbed of her childhood, thrown into a life of war and blood; this is similar to Killer Kid, a quite obscure French film in which a young pre-teen is trained as an assassin. That film emphasized his lack of choice in the matter; with Malli, her placement in this rebel group seems more possible through persuasion rather than force, and she is now old enough to have made concrete decisions about her politics. At first, The Terrorist almost seems like propaganda, as it practically glorifies her as a hero. Time and again, characters point out how she is like her brother, and that she will do the family, and the cause, proud by sacrificing her life. And there is a very curious moment before she departs on a ferry taking her to the town of the assassination, when she says good bye to the young guide. She tells him that she will not return, because she is out to fight for the freedom of her people, etc, etc. Then we get the heroic send-off, as she dashes off in slow motion, while the young boy observes, accompanied by glorious score music. That is until the next shot, in which that very same boy is killed by the very "enemy" Malli is fighting against. Everything about this scene seems to imply that there is a strong reason for Malli to do what she does; she is fighting against all those nasty people who killed her brother, innocent children, and so on. But then again, perhaps this is not really propaganda so much as the truth. She obviously has to be strongly convinced of her duty if she is to do the acts she does. And after a while, you start to feel that there is something fishy about the fact that these leaders, who supposedly are firm believers, make children and teenagers do the dirty work for them. I suppose the leaders do this because teenagers are impressionable, and in such a bloody and violent environment, teenagers ideas of importance tend toward the violent, which is why there are many of these teenage terrorists. And as long as there are young people willing to fight, there will always be a cause.

The Terrorist is filled with many strong images. A scene of Malli in the shower, thinking ruthless thoughts and coldly looking toward the camera. The shot of the comatose wife, seemingly staring at Malli's aping of her potential suicide attack through a hole in the wall. The actual rehearsals themselves, which for some odd reason are about as nerve-racking to watch as the real thing would be. The reaction of the child upon witnessing the machete attack. Propaganda or not, this is a great movie, because it tells us an interesting story, gives us an original character, it's action-packed without being visually gruesome, and gives us a lot to think about.

David Macdonald

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