It says a little bit about me and a little bit about the world we live in nowadays, that I was somewhat apprehensive about going to see a screening of a film purporting to be a comedy about Muslim suicide bombers. Despite the fact that the State Theatre was crawling with security guards, I was nonetheless wondering whether this was the type of film that would attract unwanted attention from terrorists. Okay, I was being a bit overly paranoid, but none of this was helped by an audience where – I kid you not – somebody would leave or return to their seat every five minutes. Come on, folks, the film doesn’t even run for two hours and it’s the Sydney Film Festival! Can’t you sit still just for one movie?
Anyway, that aside, the film was an interesting experience. British director Chris Morris, who was there to introduce his film and answer questions afterwards, explained that the idea for this film came when he was reading up on suicide bombers in the UK and discovered that, despite the seriousness with which they’re often portrayed in the media and movies, there is often a funny side to terrorists. He gave the example of a bunch of would-be bombers that were bugged for three months and their recorded conversations revolved around inane topics like whether a particular object was an ant or a leaf. “And what is an ant anyway?”
So drawing on this and other inspirations, Morris has constructed a black comedy about British suicide bombers. It certainly lives up to the comedy part of its title. In scene after scene, it takes a stereotype that we’re used to and inverts it. As soon as the film opens with a Middle Eastern young man sitting cross-legged in front of a wall hanging being videotaped with a gun, the imagery is familiar. But a voice says, “That gun’s too small. No one’s going to be scared of that!” “No, it’s not,” says the young man. “I’ve got big hands, see?”
From then on, we’re introduced to our bumbling four “heroes” and their increasingly more inept plans to blow themselves and something up. (Which involves many crazy schemes ranging from bombs strapped to crows through to threats to blow up a mosque “so the moderates will rise up!”. Which leads to one of my favourite dialogues:
“But my father goes to the mosque.”
“Does your father buy Jaffa oranges?”
“Well, then, if he buys Jaffa oranges, he’s supporting nukes for Israel. Your dad’s a Jew!”
The film manages to continue in this crazy tone for the whole film, however, obviously, as the film progresses, the film is heading from our friends talking about blowing themselves up to actually going forward with the plan. This is a tough transition to manage, and the film mostly succeeds in pulling this off (though obviously this will depend on your palate for black comedy – if you were amused by the film poster above, then it will be to your taste).
Where I think I felt disappointed was that, amidst all this silliness, I didn’t really feel like I had any deeper understanding of what does motivate such terrorists. Or maybe that’s the point of the film – that such people are extreme and a bit silly anyway. Either way, I do wonder what victims of terrorist attacks would make of such a thing – because the bigger issue is not so much laughing at terrorists as opposed to getting laughs out of innocent people being blown up.
I think also, as a Christian, there’s a sense in which I feel like this type of humour is masking the fact that we’re powerless to do much in the face of such horrors as suicide bombers and terrorism. It’s a bit like saying, “Well, we’ve tried tracking down terrorists with military force and that hasn’t stopped them. We’ve tried diplomacy and that doesn’t seem to be working. Given that nothing is going to make this horror go away, we can either not talk about it or get a laugh out of it. But that’s about it.”
Not that I’m saying I’ve got an easy solution to the problem myself. And it does take some of the fear out of the issue to see the lighter side of it. But laughter alone doesn’t feel like it will contribute anything to changing the world we now live in.
3 ½ out of 5.