"I have only one death. I want my death to be for you." Filmmaker Julia Loktev's taut, harrowing drama chronicles two days and nights of one of our darkest contemporary fears: a young woman who, for reasons never stated, decides to turn herself into a human bomb.
Dressed in a heavy, ankle-length skirt and a long-sleeved shirt, and carrying a tote bag and a tennis racket, an unnamed, green-eyed teenage girl (Luisa Williams), disembarks from a cross-country bus somewhere in northern New Jersey. She's met by an Asian-American man (Tschi Hun Kim) who, after a quick stop at a noodle shop, takes her to a powder-blue hotel room where, after what seems like an interminable wait, she's met by a trio of men in ski masks. She's walked through the details of her upcoming mission, then treated to a pizza. Afterwards, she's dressed in an oversized army jacket and bandolier, handed an AK-47 and placed in front of a video camera. After a sleepless night in the hotel, she's once again joined by the men. Stripped of all identifying articles and dressed in typical teenage clothes the men have bought for her, the young woman is asked to memorize the name, address and Social Security number of a stranger. She's then blindfolded and driven to a dark cellar where a bomb maker and his assistant fit her with a backpack containing a nail bomb that she will detonate at her final destination: New York City's Times Square.
Loktev was initially inspired by the true story of a young girl whose plan to blow herself up in a fast-food restaurant in Moscow's Red Square failed, either due to a malfunctioning trigger or a last-minute failure of nerve. Loktev, who was born in Russia but moved to the United States as a child, was intrigued by the mystery of the girl's story, particularly the question of what happens when the plan to end one's life in a cataclysmic event of one's own making doesn't succeed. In her film, Loktev dispenses with motivation entirely: She's careful not to identify the girl as belonging to any particular political, religious or ethnic group (Loktev's original casting call sought "an ethnically hard-to-place girl"), and while the pendant around the would-be bomber's neck is an ambiguous key, the clothes she wears at the beginning of the film inadvertently, perhaps, suggest she's an orthodox Jew. And though the prayers for strength and direction she offers up throughout the film hint at a romance gone wrong, we're deliberately left in the dark as to why such a young person would be driven to such a desperate act. But when it comes to suicide of any sort, the question of "why" is overwhelming it's only through that all-important note some suicides leave behind that we're given what we crave: the possible meaning of self-destruction. By denying us a motive, Loktev only compounds the mystery, one that's all too easily written off as fanaticism. In the end, despite Williams' extraordinary, nearly wordless performance, it's impossible to fathom what this young woman is experiencing at her moment of crisis, because we never knew what could have brought her to such a desperate pass in the first place. leave a comment --Ken Fox