Tuesday, October 25, 2011

They're On A Jihad To Wackyness!

There's a reason tragedy and comedy are the two oldest genres - they get to the heart of the human condition. We are conscious and self-aware in a great big universe that shows no discernible sign of caring about us, a predicament so depressing and terrible sometimes the only recourse is to laugh.


Four Lions takes one look at the tragic absurdities of the War on Terror and chooses to laugh. And invites all of us along! Following an amateurish cell of would-be jihadists in London, the film provides insight into just what sort of people would choose to blow themselves up for the nebulous promises of religion. Turns out it's some painfully ordinary people.

The cell often vacillates between two poles, represented by Omar and Barry. Omar isn't some disaffected teenager but a seemingly happy, well-adjusted adult with a loving wife - who is pleasantly supportive of his plans for martyrdom - and while no strategic or tactical genius is clearly the brains of the whole operation. His frequent verbal tirades against the rest of his cell are so scathingly funny he could've carried the whole movie, though it wouldn't be nearly as good.

Barry is Omar's polar opposite, right down to his lily white complexion. Stubborn, controlling, and all around dumb - the Cartman of the group. That's actually a good comparison because despite swearing himself to Allah and having a bangers and mash-thick Yorkshire accent, Barry is every bit the mean, spiteful American hick. Right down to his complete ignorance of foreign languages as brilliantly illustrated by Omar early on, calling him all manner of vulgarities in Urdu (prompting everyone to laugh at Barry, the story of his life).

That's not to say he doesn't get some real zingers himself, possibly the best in the movie - "I'm the invisible jihadi!" "Dogs contradict Islam!" "We have struck you where you least expected - We have bombed the mosque!"

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

That last bit is Barry's pet project all through the film. See, our heroes want to martyr themselves but they want to hit the right target. Barry thinks it would be awesome to blow up other Muslims - lesser, fair-weather Muslims who don't want to self-destruct - as a means of radicalizing the whole community and, as he puts it, "Fast track the end of days!" It's hard not to hear shades of the GOP's Evangelical base in such a statement...

Even when everyone else has firmly vetoed the notion, Barry is still caught taping his post-martyrdom video in which he brags about doing the thing they wouldn't take credit for but blame on someone else. This is so dumb you have to wonder if he's an MI5 plant (spoiler: he's not) but it gets to the heart of why these guys living in relative comfort would sign up for suicidal holy war - ego. They're nobodies, they know they're nobodies but dammit, they want to be somebodies! And wouldn't ya know it, martyrs are Somebodies with a capital "S" in the exponentially expanding Islamic world so hey, why not?

You got a better idea?
And while the film largely focuses on the Keystone Khalids, it does offer some side and background critiques of Britain's - and by extension America's - approach to the whole terrorism question. Whether raiding peaceful prayer meetings, torturing harmless dweebs, or sniping wookies - seriously! - the security state is painfully clueless. Just like their targets.

As the final act approaches, Four Lions devolves into the blackest of slapstick. It's just the internal logic the film has established of course - why wouldn't the clowns we've watched for ninety minutes fumble their big trip to Paradise? It's the closest the film ever gets to optimism, showing that despite all their planning and dedication suicide bombers will never usher in some grand holy war or bring down the Great Satan of the West. Mostly they'll just kill the wrong people. And a few drugstores.

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