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The War Within
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The War Within is a 2005 American drama film directed by Joseph Castelo and written by Ayad Akhtar, Joseph Castelo, and Tom Glynn. Distributed by HDNet Films and released by Magnolia Pictures, the film stars Ayad Akhtar, Firdous Bamji, Nandana Sen and Sarita Choudhury. The War Within premiered at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. ***********Sayeed Choudhury was born Pakistan but has immigrated to the U.S.A., where he now lives in New York with his wife, Farida; a school-going daughter, Rasheeda; a school-going son, Ali; and unmarried sister, Duri. One morning Farida hears a knock on the door, Ali opens it and there is Sayeed's childhood friend, Hassan, who is welcomed with open arms by the family. Hassan informs them that he is going to be hired soon in the States and he is invited to spend a few days with the Choudhury family. Duri, who has a Caucasian boyfriend, Mike, is also thrilled to meet Hassan and openly shows her attraction to him. Ali also takes an instant liking to Hassan, and is taught the true values of Islam, and when one Muslim hurts, then the pain is felt by Muslims worldwide. Sayeed is quite content with the American way of life and feels secure and comfortable especially when he sees Germans, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and non-believers living in harmony and doing business with each other.
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The film begins in Paris shortly after 911, when Hassan, an American-educated Pakistani engineer, is forcibly arrested by American forces and sent to Karachi for interrogation and torture. When he is released three years later he is completely radicalized and goes back to America with the intent of destruction. His friend, Sayeed, knows nothing of Hassan's plans, and invites him to stay with his Americanized family in Jersey City. America has been good to Sayeed and he loves his adopted country and become increasingly shocked by Hassan's religious fervor and anti-American thinking.
There's a hint of romance with Sayeed's sister, who Hassan has known since childhood. But mostly Hassan spends a lot of time teaching Sayeed's young son the principles of the Muslim faith. When Hassan's bomb-making friends are arrested, he's left on his own, with the intention of carrying out Allah's will. He's conflicted on many levels though, struggling with his own "war within" as he moves forward to fulfill his intended purpose.
The film brings out the conflicts that exist in Muslim homes across America. There are some social gatherings where they debate these questions. Hassan sees no possibility of compromise though. He accuses his hosts of letting their soft lives in America make them weak. It is all very disturbing.
What was the most disturbing to me, though, were the shots of 42nd Street, Grand Central Station and the Holland Tunnel. And the fact that Hassan was a walking time bomb for destruction. Frankly, I couldn't help being terrified.
It is doubtful that this film will ever play in mainstream America. Already, the few critics have panned it. I think that's just because it is much too painful to watch. And the reason it's so painful is because of its truthfulness and authenticity.
This is an important film. See it if you can stand it.
The focus of Castelo's tale is Hassan, an engineer by training, a graduate of the University of Maryland who has furthered his studies in France. Seized on the streets of Paris by American forces under the policy of extraordinary rendition, Hassan is spirited away to Karachi, Pakistan where he is befriended by his cellmate, Khalid. Hassan is beaten and horribly tortured for information and is shown a brutally violent picture of his dead brother Mustafa, but he insists he knows nothing (a situation director Castelo properly leaves intentionally ambiguous). Three years later, Hassan enters the United States as a stowaway in a huge shipping container and reconnects with Khalid through the mysterious Izzy. We quickly learn that Khalid and Hassan himself have been radicalized (although we are not shown the process), presumably as a result of their treatment at the hands of their American kidnappers. They have joined a sleeper cell in New Jersey planning multiple simultaneous bombings in New York City.
At the same time the bombing plans are underway, Hassan visits the home of his long time friend Sayeed, a doctor who has happily settled into the American way of life, complete with wife, two children, and a live-in sister, Duri. Sayeed invites Hassan to stay in his home until he can find a job and get on his feet financially, a decision that leads to tragic consequences for Sayeed and his family. Sayeed senses that Hassan has changed from his younger days, that he has lost his carefree spirit and taken on the mantle of a pious religious practitioner. By the time Sayeed discovers the true nature of Hassan's transformation, it is too late; Sayeed's response only serves to pull him further into the web of Hassan's actions and make him appear to be a co-conspirator.
While not designed as an action movie, THE WAR WITHIN moves with riveting dramatic force toward an inescapable yet uncertain conclusion. We see the world through the eyes of an individual whose life was turned upside down, a man who was tortured and humiliated by a power much greater than himself, a powerless man who strikes back with the only weapons he has available. THE WAR WITHIN does not condone terrorism or sympathize with the terrorist - it simply tries to show us the other side of this phenomenon, the side we are so quick to demonize and so disinclined to contemplate. One can dismiss the perpetrators of terrorism out of hand as unworthy of such consideration, but in doing so, we fail to understand them and their motivations. As Sun Tzu said in THE ART OF WAR, "If ignorant of both your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril." As the final, heartbreaking scene of the movie suggests, our unthinking, knee-jerk responses may only serve to create the next generation of radicalized terrorists.
The story takes place relatively soon following September 11th. Hassan, a brilliant young Pakistani engineer - U.S. educated, now living in Paris, is mistakenly identified as a terrorist, abducted and arrested by the U.S. and sent away where he is tortured relentlessly, interrogated and broken for a period of three years. He is a liberal, non-religious man who openly disdains his fundamentalist Muslim cellmate and all he stands for. However, this cellmate bathes, feeds him and cares for Hassan tending to his wounds and patiently befriending him. Naturally, over the three years, a bond is formed (we see this mostly through flashbacks later in the film) - and upon his release Hassan heads for the United States to join a sleeper cell intent on destroying a major U.S. facility. Arriving in the U.S. he is reunited with his best friend from Pakistan and his family who have become somewhat liberal in their religion and blend into the cultural melting pot that is American society. Hassan is confused, and tortured, but devout.
I won't go into or give away further details of the tale (and the above shouldn't ruin anything - it's only slightly more elaborate than what's on the outside of the box), but the movie had me alternately enraged, uplifted and embarassed.
The performances are uniformly excellent with Ayad Akhtar taking pride of place in an absolutely astonishing big screen debut as Hassan. Combining a prideful arrogance, intelligence, confusion, newfound rabid religiousity borne of anger, Akhtar establishes Hassan's character strongly from the beginning, but still has plenty in reserve to show a remarkable arc of character development. (Akhtar also co-wrote the taut, emotional screenplay, which is a work of art.)
Naturally, the film did not do well in America, because it doesn't embrace any one idea: pro or con - of terrorism. It merely shows and serves to explain why it exists and anyone who can't wrap themselves around the "why" needs to re-examine their ideas of world history, the cultures of oppression, the Crusades and genocide in the modern world in general. "The War Within" really is a powerhouse of a film that should cause some soul searching - and a war within.
This film fully captures the perspective of the terrorist. We are equipped to condemn them for their beliefs and their actions but sometimes we don't always understand why they do what they do....what if we were in their shoes? would we do the same? How would injustice change you? I'm not defending terrorism but i am saying why not step outside of yourself and look at it from their perspective and maybe try to understand their actions to some degree. I bet for some of them it's difficult to do what they do and it breaks their hearts to put themselves in that position. This is a film about an indignant human being who fully explores that type of complexity.
Very well worth it!