Terrorism has become one of the most discussed of all social disasters in the recent years, and this is especially true of suicide bombing. Numerous films have been made on this subject, such as “Four Lions” (2009) and “Paradise Now” (2005). However the majority of these films have centered young men, and it usually made clear in the films narratives that the young men are killing themselves as a hideous gesture for others and misbegotten ideologies.  Julia Loktev’s intense drama film “Day Night Day Night” (2006), however, tells about suicide bombing from a 19-year old girl’s perspective, and the storyline never details what others, thoughts or broken ideas have propelled her to the terrible decision to become a suicide bomber.  A vacancy is left in explanation of causes and nationalities and the act and its trajectory is what is left open for a terrible contemplation.  The  only thing the viewers is given as a certainty is that this bemused young girl believes in something so strongly  that she is willing to kill herself and others for its sake.

When the film begins, we hear the girl praying. She mumbles, making it impossible to hear what she is saying. Later on, she meets up with an anonymous driver who takes her to a hotel. At the hotel, she begins her training for “the mission”. She, as well as the audience, will never see her trainer’s faces. Loktev, the director, uses the scenes of the training to give us a hint of what kind of person the girl is and how the “trainers” threaten the “volunteers for death” with a subtle but definitive intimidation. The girl is obviously compulsive: when she bathes and washes, she scrubs herself violently and brutally. She also brushes her teeth roughly and with a single-mindedness which speaks of a dreadful compulsion. Her neurotic washing, which she does directly before her mind numbing training begins, reminded me of a similar scene from one of Shirin Neshat’s films, “Zarin”, where a prostitute disgusted with herself, and the appalling acts her body has been witness too, washes herself till she bleeds. The girl in “Day Night Day Night” doesn’t quite bleed, but the way she washes herself is incredibly obsessive, hinting at a form of self-hatred.  The girls trainers, who make sure to not reveal their faces to the girl but freely go through her things, demand her to blindfold herself and forbid her from opening the curtains in her hotel room, portrays a clear and lopsided power-relationship between the one who’s going to blow themselves up and the ones that give the orders to do so. The trainers, in all conversations and the trainings, use the mind tricks of power relations to brainwash and devalue the young girl with the intention to make sure there can be no reflection or change of mind while executing the ghastly and misguided mission. Loktev, who also wrote the screenplay, made an excellent choice in making the suicide bomber female and the trainer’s male: it makes her message of the training being a harsh power-relationship clearer and exploring the dynamics of the hierarchy of power. (This could have been made quite clear with a male suicide bomber as well, of course. It’s just that men’s mistreatment of women is such a common, global and major issue that the brainwashed one being female while the brainwashers are male makes the point more obvious). After the girl has completed her training, she receives a bomb in a backpack and goes out to full and raucous Time Square to complete her mission.

The film takes it’s time telling the story. It gives us details after details, grasping the viewer into an uncomfortable world of fanatics and fundamentalist thinking. Some may experience the film to be slow paced, when in my opinion it is just a clever and realistic way to show the creeping violence that lingers in our society.

The leading actress, Luisa Williams, does an unbelievably fantastic job as the girl. She speaks clearly, but sometimes in a weak voice. There are scenes where the girl is supposedly frighten out of her mind; in these scenes, Williams is able to get her hands to shake intensely and breathe alarmingly. This is handled perfectly, never feeling over dramatic. The girl is also portrayed with a disturbed look in her eyes, given perfectly through Williams’s performance. The casting of the girl suits the film perfectly, and Williams carries the films ghastly atmosphere brilliantly. The girl has a personality which is hard to understand, but the characters actions keep the viewer glued to the screen, petrified and perplexed. Luisa Williams acting is nothing else than pure gold!

“Day Night Day Night” is Julia Loktevs first fictional work. She has previously made a documentary, “Moment of Impact” (1998) and is now working on a second film. Loktev is originally from Russia, but lives currently in the U.S.A.  Loktev really impresses as a director and writer in her debut film, and I am waiting for her next film with great eagerness.

“Day Night Day Night” is a much unknown film, but worth watching. It shows suicide bombers as well as any terrorism as a problem that emerges when people are convinced and believe too strongly in something. The films hints at things, but ultimately leaves the viewer to decide why the girl is doing what she’s doing. I, for instance, am pretty sure she has religious motives, but it is impossible to figure out if that truly is the real motive or not. Loktevs films gives you a rare, forceful experience that makes you think. “Day Night Day Night” is a cinematic gem.

Watch the trailer: