Day Night Day Night is a movie that is going to aggravate and even infuriate many people. That’s because it challenges its audience to not think about the politics of terrorism but dares you to examine the mindset of a person of a person going through the process of preparation to become a suicide bomber.
We are never given the name of the young woman who has decided to giver her life to a terrorist action. For the first few minutes of the film we don’t even see her face clearly, the film already stressing her utter anonymity. This is reinforced when she finally turns to face the camera to reveal dark, foreign, but ultimately non-descript features. She could be Arabic or Latino, it is never defined.
Arriving in a New Jersey bus depot, the young woman is taken to a cheap motel where she is prepared for what is to come. Left alone, she meticulously bathes and grooms herself. Whether this is out of boredom or part of some religious ritual we are not told. She receives her orders via cell phone, always saying “Thank you” at the end of each call.
Slowly, methodically, we are taken through the 48 hours leading up to her standing in on a busy Times Square street corner, a backpack bomb strapped to her back. She is supplied new clothing and given new identity information which she repeats over and over in an attempt at memorization. While preparing to make what seems the prerequisite video to be released to the media, the hooded terrorists who are the young girl’s masters move about her trying to find the perfect combination of backdrop and wardrobe. All of these sequences further depersonalize the girl, turning her into a cipher, stripped of any identity to the point where by the video shoot, she is just another prop in the terrorists’ own deadly political theatre.
But it is the film’s third act, where she arrives at New York’s Port Authority bus terminal and begins her slow walk up 42nd Street towards Times Square, where the film kicks into high gear, courtesy of the cinema-verité style, roving camera work of director Julia Loktev. The sequence appears to be shot in secret, and without necessary permits I’d wager, amongst the bustle of actual rush hour New Yorkers. And by doing so adds a certain extra verisimilitude which amplifies the already tense sequence.
Another major factor in the film’s impact can be traced to the performance of lead actress Luisa Williams. She fully embodies and conveys the wide range of emotions that the bomber runs through over the course of the film. Since the character has very little dialogue, much of this is done through often very subtle physical acting- small hand gestures, sideways glances and the like. It is an incredible performance made even more remarkable by the fact that this is Williams’ feature film debut.