The year is 2100. A history teacher wants to teach their class all about the strange, dark times known as the early 2020s. What contemporary film could perfectly encapsulate all the troubling mentalities and societal divisions brought to the fore in that disturbed year? Could such a film do that while still being wildly entertaining and endlessly optimistic? Borat can.
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm is brilliant, if anything, for its timing alone. It is the 2020 film. Charting the course is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakh journalist, as he travels the United States in an ostensible attempt to gift Mike Pence with his own daughter. This is the loose plot thread that knits together all the individual scenes and sketches, as Baron Cohen visits abortion clinics, anti-mask rallies, Republican conventions, synagogues, and – infamously – Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, unmasking some truly scary beliefs and communities along the way.
Never have the contradictions in American society been so clear than in a scene where two kindly folks allow Borat to spend five days in their home, only to reveal themselves as deeply xenophobic and earnest supporters of the bizarre QAnon conspiracy theory. This film is so captivating simply for being real. Borat has not changed. He is still a nonsensical stereotype. In 2020, America has simply shifted towards him.
The first Borat – hilarious as it was – always invited the viewer to laugh at Sacha Baron Cohen’s antics more than the people he found willing to accept Borat’s crazy beliefs. The subtler message was somewhat lost.
Borat is a stereotype created for the expectations of the West, who can laugh guilt-free at the funny Kazakh man and his strange ideas. The implication was always there – our laughter is hypocrisy, because Borat exposes that his backwards, monstrous beliefs are only under the surface of many Western minds.
In Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm, this message is front and centre. It’s funny to see Borat and his daughter dance at a traditional Southern ball while a bloodstain slowly grows on her dress. Yet, the focus of the scene is the moment when Borat convinces the fathers at the ball to value his daughter in real money terms.
The single best addition to the Borat sequel, though, is Maria Bakalova’s Tutar. In the role of Borat’s daughter, she isn’t just incredibly funny, but completely convincing as a young woman gradually opening up to a better system of beliefs, despite the enormous challenges she faces both at home and in the USA. Her inclusion helps elevate the film to a new level of both humour and reflection.
Despite the truly terrible beliefs and systems inadvertently uncovered by Borat and Tutar, what’s most shocking about Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm is its fierce, relentless optimism. So much of this film is depressing, disturbing and cold, as befits this past year. Yet, there is hope. Borat finds himself and his beliefs changed by some truly inspirational people. A scene at a synagogue suddenly becomes deeply moving. One of the final scenes, in which Borat and Tutar report together as equals and journalists, is so joyful and happy it feels like a different film altogether.
This film is timely in all the best ways. It is the year 2020 distilled to its strangest, most fascinating parts, making for an illuminating, disturbing, but beautifully optimistic film.
Image: Skssoft via Wikimedia Commons