Monday, November 06, 2006

It took some convincing from some classmates, but I went out to see the Borat movie last night, opening weekend and a school night (with a few exceptions, I prefer to not see movies during either of these times). Since this has been a little controversial around these parts (good morning, Mr. Osborn) I thought it would be fun to continue by discussing specific aspects of the film, and perhaps we can have some group catharsis. If you would rather not learn of surprising plot twists and scenes, you should consider stopping here.

It's true that Borat (and his producer, Azamat) spend most of their time in the South. These were the portions of the film I expected to be the most harsh. As I recall, the Chicago Reader review described the first and third worlds becoming indistinguishable, and the New York Times (in an otherwise fun review) said the gun store clerk was creepy. Neither of these things proved true.

The gun store clerk looked, to me, more bored (maybe weary; I imagine you encounter plenty of weirdness working in a gun shop) than anything else. Moreover, he looked like he was doing his job: he was asked about which weapon was best for protection, and he answered it. He can't help that his customer framed the question in terms of defense against Jews (he also doesn't seem terribly concerned about the qualification, but I refer to my previous parenthesis on this point). It's also good to note that the gun store clerk refuses to sell Borat a gun. Borat claims it's because he's a foreigner, but we already know that Borat is not a reliable narrator (and, he accuses other people of discriminating against him for being foreign). For all we know, the gun store guy heard him ask about shooting Jews and decided right away not to sell him anything.

Other southerners don't come off as well as the gun store clerk. Particularly, the older man coaching Borat on shaving off his moustache to look less Muslim (at least until we're done "kicking butt" in the Middle East). He enthusiastically agrees with Borat's thought that homosexuals should face corporal punishment, but seconding the notion of a fast-talking weird-o with an odd cadence is distinctly different than voicing the sentiment himself.

The rodeo crowd, like the gun owner, comes off better than I was expecting. They initially greet Borat with cheers, though their applause becomes much more perfunctory as Borat makes increasingly gruesome predictions of George W. Bush's Iraq war victory. By the time he's singing the Kazahk national anthem to the tune of the American one ("Kazahkstan is the greatest/ country in the world/ all other countries/ are run by little girls") they know they're at least being taunted, if not put on. They boo him, understandably; they don't strike me as having been duped or exploited: they have a clear sense of what's going on.

The worst people in the movie seem to be the New Yorkers. More than one man, when Borat tries to introduce himself and kiss their cheeks, threatens to actually assault him. The guy on the subway is so convincing that it's the first time (including the Ali G Show episodes) that Sacha Baron Cohen actually backs away looking genuinely intimidated. I guess you could argue that they didn't want to be kissed on the cheek, but I lose a lot of sympathy for anyone who would violently assault someone who is otherwise not threatening them. I have nothing against the humiliation of a bully.

We could go back and forth debating this, but I'm pretty sure the Jewish couple that owns the bed and breakfast Borat and Azamat find themselves in are in on the joke (they are both suppressing smirks when they bring their guests a late night snack). Likewise, Pamela Anderson must have know she was going to be proposed to in traditional Kazahk style.

I also found Borat actually touching a few times. When Azamat deserts him, and he's talking by himself to the camera he seems very lonely and confused. He also is unusually sincere when dropping Luenelle off after their night out riding mechanical bulls. She's the one character he doesn't give a hard time, and I think it speaks volumes of good things about Sacha Baron Cohen that that's who he chooses to align his sympathies with.

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