Political Film Society - The War Within

PFS Film Review
The War Within


The War WithinThe War Within, directed by Joseph Costelo, attempts to explain the psychology of Moslem suicide bombers after 9/11. When the film begins, a Pakistani engineering student, Hassan (played by Ayad Akhtar), is abducted by the CIA on a street in the Latin Quarter of Paris. He is drugged and flown to Pakistan, where he is interrogated and tortured; flashbacks of his torture reappear as nightmares later in the film. Evidently his brother, who was living in Lahore, protested the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 but was shot dead. The CIA believes that Hassan must know about a terrorist cell, but he has no such knowledge. While incarcerated, he is befriended by an Algerian terrorist who is a member of The Brotherhood. Presumably, Hassan is released from detention at some point and joins The Brotherhood, as the title "Three Years Later" appears between the detention scene and a view of the port of New York as containers are unloaded. A stowaway in a container, he is released by bearded men and informed of arrangements that will lead up to his mission. However, he has a physician friend in Jersey City, Sayeed (played by Firdous Bamji), an Americanized Muslim whom he visits. Telling them that he has a job opportunity, his friend allows him to stay at their house along with his wife, Farida (played by Sarita Choudhury), his young son, Ali (played by Varun Sriram), and his sister, Duri (played by Nandana Sen), who is Hassan's age. One day, he takes a bus to a warehouse where the bombmaking is taking place in preparation for a major terrorist attack, but the CIA and police have already discovered the site and are arresting all those present. Hassan now awaits new orders, which indicate a Dallas venue, but he prefers to make his own bombs secretly in the basement of Sayeed's house and to set off a suicide bomb in Grand Central Station. The only one who knows that he is doing something secretly is Ali, who is so puzzled that he asks Hassan to explain. The explanation is a metaphor. He asks Ali to imagine that one day the neighbors decide to take over the house where he lives and tell them to stay in the back yard, and another day the neighbors find oil in the yard and kick them out entirely, making them homeless. Saying that such events are happening all over the world, Hassan asks Ali what he would do if that fate were to apply to his own family and house. Ali replies that he would fight, so Hassan has indeed made his point. Although Ali is confused about the metaphor, Hassan teaches him how to pray to Allah, suggesting that yet another potential suicide bomber has been groomed. In any case, one evening Duri finds the bombmaking equipment in the basement and cries out. Sayeed goes to the basement, there is a struggle, Hassan knocks him down and escapes, bound for Grand Central Station. Sayeed then summons the police to report the illegal activity, but they are more interested in arresting him than in tracking down Hassan. In the end of the film, filmviewers learn whether Hassan will indeed become a suicide bomber at the train station, but not before understanding more fully the familiar words of a sign, evidently billboarded in Times Square, to make democracy the example, not war. In The Terrorist (2000), the suicide bomber is a poor Tamil girls from Sri Lanka who is in effect sold by her family members to a terrorist training camp because they cannot afford to pay for her education or even her marriage. The War Within, in contrast, provides a cinematic example of what many observers have been predicting: That overzealous methods by American officials are increasing, not decreasing, terrorism. Although the story is fictional, news reports earlier in 2005 indicate that several CIA agents in Italy, without the authorization of Rome, kidnapped individuals, one of whom was taken to Egypt and tortured to obtain information that he did not possess. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated The War Within for best film on human rights of 2005. MH

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