Friday, March 23, 2007


Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, 2006) [7]
The problem with satire is that it's hard to make good comedy out of it. Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen's high wire act, comes close. This is due mostly to the fact that taking the guise of a anti-semitic, misogynistic, clueless foreigner gives Baron Cohen the perfect cover to reveal the true nature of Americans. There are numerous instances in this film of that, such as the drunken frat boys, the gun salesman who doesn't blink an eye when asked what gun to kill a Jew and so on. Baron Cohen earns my respect by taking such risks with the Borat character, always pushing the situation but never breaking. There are numerous times in the film, most notably when Borat first arrives in New York, that the threat of physical harm is present and he never breaks stride. This makes Baron Cohen's performance nearly extraordinary mostly because by immersing himself so deeply in the persona of Borat, he gets ordinary Americans to reveal the ugly underbelly that a lot of people in this country have, all the while still making the audience laugh.

I laughed, but not as much as I was led to believe. This leads me to the the humor of the film. A lot of the film, especially the times when Borat interacts with unsuspecting ordinary people, is based in the humor of embarrasment and humiliation. We laugh at these ignorant rednecks; it's not surprising that most of the more memorable segments have to do with Borat's ventures in the South (frat boys, the vicious homophobe running the rodeo). We laugh at the crazy and stupid things coming out of their mouths partly because we can't believe what they're saying and at least in terms of thinking in the Northern liberal elite, it reinforces our ideas about how backwards and intolerant the South still is. The interactions on the New York subway do the same thing, this time giving everyone a chance to see New York is still full of assholes afraid of human contact. What bothers me is not so much the labeling associated, is that these people are meant to be laughed at, and that's something I'm just not comfortable with. I'm more appalled with what they're saying and acting than laughing. The rodeo scene where the audience applauds America's "War of Terror" and President Bush drinking the blood of Iraqis is scary to me than anything. It probably means a good portion of this nation feels the same way.

The film's best moments always revolve the humor around the Borat character himself. This is when the satire is really sharp. Baron Cohen, making his character a bumbling reporter from a nation where a good majority of people wouldn't be able to locate on a map is a perfect way to characterize the alien nature of the rest of the world that America seems to hold. His lack of sophistication is the most consistently funny thing in the film, whether it be washing his face in the toilet or saying something completely inappropriate. The funniest moments in the film focus on Borat's own anti-semitism (being trapped in a Jewish home) and the homo-erotic/homophobia conflict (the naked wrestling in the hotel is one of the most hilarious and daring scenes I've seen in a film this year. Even with all that, I still am conflicted about the film overall. But I doubt I'll see a more daring piece of mainstream cinema for a while.

By the way, I forgot to mention the one time in the film where Borat interacts with regular people that is truly terrifying to me. When Borat ends up at the Pentecostal revival, Baron Cohen and Charles just document the happenings; they don't attempt to humiliate anybody. The actual events of this are shocking enough. That people have that much faith in a concept so abstract as religion and God that they practically lose all control of themselves is beyond comprehension for me.

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