“We were so cruel” states one man reflecting on the atrocities of the past. The sentiment is echoed by another who remarks that many of fragmented communities currently in Sri Lanka are a result of people being “not ready to accept others’ rights.” It is clear in these conversations and others featured in Demons in Paradise that the societal scars from war still run deep.
Director Jude Ratnam was only five years old when the civil war broke out Sri Lanka in 1983. For thirty years the conflict between the Tamil and the Sinhalese brought out the worst in mankind and forever changed a society. Though Ratnam’s family fled the warzone, his uncle remained behind to fight alongside the Tamil resistance. Years later Ratnam and his uncle return to the once volatile region to provide context to the horrors that ravished communities.
Speaking both to individuals who were hunted like animals, and those who in their own way played the roles of hunters, Ratnam paints a portrait of a society steeped in violence. One of the most unsettling aspects of the horrific stories recounted is the number of people who feel that their heinous actions were just. They view their unwarranted foes as the other rather than fellow humans riding the same trains and traveling down the same roads.
For every prideful account, Ratnam counters with individuals filled with remorse. In one area of the country a person remarks about the ghost of the dead haunting the land a midnight. Demons in Paradise avoids the stylized flourishes and lets the speakers paint the images in the viewer’s mind. The film is a stark reminder that it will take many decades before the wounds, and ripple effect, of the civil war can be healed.