December 03, 2006

MOVIES: Borat (Larry Charles, 2006)

The premise of this "comedy" (I use that word very loosely indeed) is that Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen), a journalist from Kazakhstan, is sent to the United States to do a documentary for Kazakh television; he is accompanied by his producer/cameraman, Azamat (Ken Davitian). In his character of Borat, Baron Cohen interviews a range of ordinary Americans and exposes the bigotry, hatred, and prejudice that supposedly permeates American society.

Well, big whoop. There are bigots in America. This is neither a surprise nor an occasion for laughter. What Baron Cohen has made here isn't a piece of scathing satire or a bold social commentary; it's what Candid Camera would have been if Allen Funt had been a sadistic asshole.

Knowing that most people try to avoid confrontation, Baron Cohen puts people in untenable positions where they have a difficult choice They can either be rude to their guest by taking a confrontational stance about the bigoted things he says; or they can go along with his idiocy and try to get out of the situation as gracefully as they possibly can, realizing that arguing with someone so clearly deranged as Borat is a waste of time. Most of his victims in this movie do the latter. When the police entice someone to commit a crime they wouldn't otherwise have committed, that's called entrapment; most of what Baron Cohen does in Borat is the social equivalent.

All Baron Cohen proves in this movie is that if you point a camera at anyone for long enough, they will probably say something stupid, especially if they are being "interviewed" by an idiot whose sole purpose is to goad them into doing so. Many of his interviewees have been drinking -- the Southern dinner party, the frat boys in the RV -- which makes it even easier for him to get embarrassing comments from them.

One or two of Borat's subjects do seem to be genuinely unpleasant people -- there's the rodeo organizer who offers an unsolicited volley of homophobic commentary, and advises Borat to shave his mustache so that he won't be mistaken for a Muslim -- but what is remarkable about many of Borat's victims is how far they allow themselves to be pushed before getting angry.

The guests at that Southern dinner party, for instance, continue to smile politely at their guest's antics even as he calls one of the women at the table ugly, even after he returns from the restroom asking where he should put the bag of feces he's now carrying. (There's actually a line in the closing credits: "Mr. Baron Cohen's feces provided by...") It's only when Borat goes to the extreme of inviting a prostitute to join the dinner party that they show any anger, and that anger is entirely justified.

Borat isn't a funny movie, it isn't a brave movie, and it isn't an important movie. It's unkind, cruel, and unfair. I've heard people say of other movies that they needed a shower after seeing it, and I've always written that off as hyperbole; after seeing Borat, I understand what they meant.

1 comment:

MacGuffin said...

Interesting. I still have not seen this movie despite one of my friends telling me it is one of the funniest he has ever seen (he himself is the child of Indian immigrants, not sure how that impacts his viewpoint).

My main reason for not seeing it yet is along the lines of your distaste. But I have the feeling I'd laugh at a lot of it as well. So torn.