For many of us, no film can offer a full comprehension of the suicide bomber. A fictional film like the Oscar-nominated Paradise Now can attempt to humanize him and an in-depth documentary like Pierre Rehov's Suicide Killers can give a rounded discussion of motives, but it is impossible to really put a viewer in the shoes and mind of such a person. Film can serve as an excellent stepping stone, though, and while a fictional story is fine to pique interest in the subject, it is Rehov's documentary, with its intent to fully explain and analyze, that gives us the better introduction.
Suicide Killers is not exactly an educational starting point, and it does not go too much into the history or politics of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Instead it is more of an essay documentary in which Rehov sets out to understand the psychopathology of the Palestinian suicide bomber. The film features a number of mental health experts weighing in on reasons and incentives, some of which are obvious or well-known like brainwashing and the promise of eternal paradise. Other explanations are more complex, such as the idea that suicide bombers are subconsciously responding to their heightened sexual repression and frustration.
Primarily comprised of interviews, Suicide Killers balances its psychological talking heads with the inclusion of actual suicide bombers, as well as a few proud family members. The film shows us many subjects, each at different stages of his or her mission to martyrdom, from young children training at a Palestine Summer Camp to imprisoned would-be bombers, one of whom actually abandoned his mission due to his having a sudden change of heart. However, as much as these examples provide a unique access to the shocking world of the suicide bomber, they are not so candid as to make us really understand the mind, for example, of the Martyr Brigade soldier who tells us he will have no problem blowing up an Israeli child. And certainly no commentary from scholarly doctors can justify for us the failed bomber who wants so badly to get out of jail in order to try again.
The Suicide Killers DVD, which is out now, includes a wide assortment of bonus scenes and sequences, which are actually more interesting than the film itself. Some, like the extended montage of martyr routines, affirmations and training exercises, are simply addendums to scenes featured in the documentary. Others offer us supplemental digressions, most of which are compelling enough to be expanded for whole separate films. A short piece on post traumatic syndrome disorder (which was Rehov's original focus for this project) spotlights a center that gives psychiatric treatment to victims of suicide bombings. Another piece on border checkpoints examines the relationship between Israeli soldiers and the diverse peoples, regulars and non-regulars, seeking passage into town. There is even an un-subtitled, fly-on-the-wall approach to a day in the life at a high-security detention center.
Finally, the DVD includes an interactive study guide, accessible through your computer, which is a beneficial feature for any documentary serving as an introduction to a hot topic. This 31-page guide consists of a short interview with Rehov, questions for an academic discussion of the film, terrorism statistics and figures, descriptions of specific attacks, and links to additional resources for further exploration. Between the psychological thesis of the film and the bonus materials, there is no getting inside the head of the suicide bomber, but there is an adequately panoramic view of the subject, which is as good as it gets.