It is, sadly with no surprise, incumbent upon me to report to you that we, as a country, may be doomed. If you didn’t know it before, if you weren’t clued in by the number of people who think it’s okay to vote for someone who calls Neo-Nazis “very fine people,” separates children from parents knowing that they will never be reunited, may have allowed the nation to pursue a Coronavirus “strategy” based on it mostly killing people in states controlled by the opposite political party, brags about sexual assault, openly mocks the disabled, courts foreign interference in our election, don’t worry, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for make Benefit once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” to open your eyes.
The truth is, it won’t open your eyes to anything. It is not a movie that preaches to the choir, it is movie where the choir gets it and those in the pews may laugh anyway, oblivious to so many barbs thrown in their direction. The “Borat” sequel makes me, in a word, sad.
For those not in the know, the character Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a journalist from Kazakhstan. While in character, Cohen interacts with regular people. He gets them to say, or agree with, racist/misogynistic/anti-Semitic/just-plain-stupid things. Although the character didn’t originate with the 2006 film, it certainly brought him to prominence, and now he’s back again in this Amazon distributed sequel.
As the story was, it seems, planned to play out, Borat is returning to the United States to deliver a gift (his daughter) to Mike Pence or any other high-ranking GOP official. Then, reality got in the way of this movie designed to poke fun at reality. So, as it actually plays out, Borat finds himself not only trying to accomplish this original task, but having to do so in the time of Coronavirus. Directed by Jason Woliner and with eight credited writers, you can see some of the seams where these ideas had to be married to form a cohesive whole, but by and large it still works.
“Subsequent Moviefilm” is designed to tackle misogyny, and gets going with Borat and his daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), telling anyone who will listen about how women are inferior. Over the course of the movie they both learn—Tutar first—about how wrong they are. But, their education is just the through line, the point is to watch as people agree with some of the horrible things the two say as they learn.
Eventually, somehow, Borat finds himself quarantining with two Qanon believers. These two guys might be kind in letting Borat stay with them—although, what they understand to be going on, what with the cameras being present, is unclear—but they also think it’s entirely possible that Hillary Clinton drinks blood or adrenaline or whatever that is harvested from children. All three attend a rally where Borat sings and encourages people to cheer the notion of killing various people like Dr. Fauci and journalists.
It is funny and it is horrible. These are two actual, real, people who believe this nonsense. There were plenty of folks singing and cheering at the rally. There are a number of other people in the movie who believe equally terrible things. Over and over again we treated to increasing levels of stupidity on the part of “regular” people in the United States.
Crucially, what we can’t know about “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is the truth behind the production. That is, did Cohen and Bakalova (who is fantastic) repeatedly get stopped when they tried one of their pranks only to have to refilm it with someone else as the patsy? How often were they told “no,” or corrected when they said something awful?
To show those moments would make the movie less funny and work less well, but might make our national future seem less bleak. “Subsequent Moviefilm” is funny if 95% of the time Borat and Tutar were stopped and we’re only getting the 5% where they weren’t. It’s terrifying if it’s the other way around.
This is where personal opinion enters it, because my belief is that the vast majority of the time Borat and Tutar were allowed to do and say whatever they wanted. There is an argument to be made that some folks didn’t stop them out of sheer politeness, which very well may be true a couple of the times, but there are other moments—too many of them—where that argument simply cannot hold up.
Interestingly, the movie also often doesn’t get as horrible as it might. There are a ton of moments which could have gone a whole lot worse if the camera had lingered for a longer time or Borat and Tutar had allowed them to progress. I would love a legal opinion on whether such a thing would cross some sort of line, or if the producers, perhaps, simply viewed it all as a moral obligation.
It would be wrong if I didn’t note the fact that there are a number of wonderful, kind, caring, people depicted in the movie as well. Many of those scenes, whether we’re seeing a group of Republican women or a babysitter, work without leaving the audience with a sense of impending doom. But, the showstopping moments tend to be the ones where our own inhumanity is on display.
There is no doubt that “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for make Benefit once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” will make you laugh, even if it’s a cringing sort of laughter. There can be no doubt that the idea for at least one sequence in it seems lifted from the original movie. And there can be no doubt that there are good people shown in the film. Despite that goodness, it is impossible to watch the movie—to think about what you’re being shown—and to not walk away with some sense of dismay deep in the pit of your stomach.
photo credit: Amazon Studios