MovieBob - IntermissionLaughing at TerroristsMovieBob - Intermission - RSS 2.0
That Western civilization may have found itself at war with a foe who've more in common with The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight than S.P.E.C.T.E.R. can't possibly serve to lessen the lingering pain of 9/11 and the like, and the film takes great care to affirm the insane horror of suicide bombing even as it makes a mockery of the men plotting it. Nevertheless, it's inevitable that it will always be "too soon" for someone, and despite making a big splash at Sundance, Lions initially failed to find a U.S. distributor. Salvation came from Tim League, proprietor of both the Alamo Drafthouse and its new venture as a full-fledged film distributor.
"I was reading into the subject anyway, and things kept popping up that were 'funny in the wrong place,' y'know?" - Chris Morris
If you follow the internet movie geek scene even casually, you've probably heard of League (and of his new business-buddy Devin Faraci, who runs Alamo's Badass Digest and likely know that he goes all-in when he's got a film he wants to help be seen. Along with picking up Four Lions, he and Faraci have brought Morris stateside for a promotional interview tour - which is where the quotes from this article (and that opening story) have come from.
Morris, in spite of his reputation as a button-pushing satirist, is a friendly and genial fellow in person, giving off no air of stress or annoyance at having had to traverse Boston's Cambridge area - which I can tell you from frequent firsthand experience is one of the most obnoxiously-unnavigable urban layouts in America. He seems genuinely relieved to hear that the film is being warmly received, and he's happy to indulge my opening "dumb question" (my words, not his) about how he managed to clear the use of copyrighted characters like Raphael the Turtle or The Honey Monster in a scene where the Lions don costumed disguises (apparently, it wasn't much hassle).
"Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, did a TV interview ... wasted four hours looking for an outfit that didn't make him look fat. He kept blurting out Koranic quotes, getting them totally wrong." - Chris Morris
Exploring the psyche of villainy through comic mockery isn't new, and neither is going to dark and all-too-current places to do it. Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator brutally parodied Hitler before the U.S. entered WWII, the kids of South Park were off to Afghanistan to take their shots at Osama bin Laden almost as soon at the real-life military was, and the sole redeeming gag of David Zucker's embarrassingly awful Republican-aimed spoof An American Carol featured Robert Davi as the leader of comic relief Al Qaeda goons. But, as we all know (and as I'm sure I'll be sternly reminded in the feedback), this is different. Comedy regarding terrorism, even in this context where the terrorists themselves come in for (pardon the pun) the lion's share of the comic takedowns, is a dicey prospect given how broad its potential effects and its connection to at least two ongoing wars.
In the end, that's understandable. But I'm also of the opinion that, even in cases such as these, declaring certain evils off limits to be joked about gives them more power than they deserve. The overriding point of Four Lions (well, one of them anyway) is that Al Qaeda and all the other various permutations of terrorism and jihad and whatever else it wants to call itself might not be the impressive, all-powerful force it wants its targets to imagine it is. It succeeds in humanizing its characters much moreso than almost any serious film on the subject ever has, but it does so in the service of knocking them down, not building them up. It looks The Enemy in the eye and says "Yeah, you can be scary. But you can also be a bunch of morons mucking around with weapons you can't use for a cause you don't even grasp. You're silly. You're pathetic."
Sometimes, bravery is shooting the bad guy. Other times, bravery can also be flipping him the bird.
(Four Lions is now playing in limited release in the United States.)
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.