Borat (2006)

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*. A satire? Of what, exactly?
*. Not America. Because Borat (the movie and the character) isn’t really interested in making observations on America: its culture, values, or mores. What it’s interested in is Borat and his crazy opinions and shenanigans.
*. I think this is an important point, because the typical way such “stranger in a strange land” stories work is to reveal something about the host society by seeing it through the eyes of a naïve visitor. That’s what you’d expect here, but it’s not really what you get, with a couple of exceptions.
*. Borat’s political incorrectness, for example, has nothing to say about political correctness in general because it’s too extreme. His opinions (on women and Jews, primarily) are offensive, not representative. His aim is to get a rise out of people, make them uncomfortable, shock them out of their complacency, but not for anything they’ve said or done. Inevitably, he is the butt of his own joke.

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*. This isn’t to say the movie isn’t funny. It is. And set pieces like the anthem at the rodeo and the naked wrestling match remain so even ten years later (which isn’t often the case with comedy). My point is only that it’s a far less political movie than it was taken for when it first came out.
*. The big reservation I have with it lies in the question of how scripted it is and how much of it is “real.” I think most of it was in fact scripted. Pamela Anderson, for example, was in on the joke. It seems obvious to me that the Jewish couple who run the bed-and-breakfast were too. The couple who run the antique store? All the owner had to do was hold on to Borat to stop him from breaking more stuff, and he takes the destruction of his shop with surprising equanimity.
*. Given the presence of cameras filming everything, it’s hard to see how anyone could have been oblivious to it all being a prank. Even the frat boys in the RV appear to be going along with the joke, and putting on a performance of their own.
*. Why was Sacha Baron Cohen unable to follow it up? I think because his other avatars of insanity (Brüno, Admiral General Aladeen) weren’t as likeable. Borat snuck under everyone’s defences (both in the movie and among audiences) because he is so open, so insistent on getting up close and personal (with kisses to both cheeks or high fives). He also occupies the heroic role in that most archetypal of comic plots: the young man overcoming the difficulties placed in the way of his marrying his true love. We’re cheering for him even as we’re shaking our heads. We’re sure that if it wasn’t for his being from Kazakhstan — and that’s not his fault — he’d be just fine.

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