By Cameron Kaercher
When the mockumentary ”Borat,” starring Sacha Baron Cohen, released in 2006, it set the world on fire. It appeared on many film critic’s lists of best movies of the year, and Michael Hirschorn of The Atlantic said it “may be the funniest film in a decade.” When it came to awards season, it was even nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars.
For those who may not know who Borat is, he is a fake journalist, played by Baron Cohen, who comes to America from Kazakhstan to learn about our culture. The 2006 film itself was framed as a documentary, made up of Baron Cohen interacting with real, unscripted people. An example of this is when his character goes to a patriotic rodeo and speaks to the crowd before the event begins, providing his tongue in cheek support for the “war of terror.”
In “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” the titular character returns to America in hopes of bettering the relations between our country and his own. This time he is accompanied by his daughter Tutar, played by Maria Bakalova, who he hopes to hand over to someone close to the White House. This plot line sets up the idea of glorifying and idolizing the Trump family, as Tutar aspires to be just like Melania — someone else’s wife, rather than living for herself.
Tutar’s character arc of realizing that there is more to life than following stereotypes is the paper-thin plot that allows the film to exist. The real engine of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is the undercover pranks and stunts. One scene shows a moment when Baron Cohen broke into last February’s Conservative Political Action Conference, while wearing a Klu Klux Klan robe and headpiece. After a quick Superman-like costume change in the bathrooms, he comes out looking like Donald Trump.
The most viral situations surrounding the film involves former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, in a compromising position with Bakalova.
For the film, Bakalova poses as a right-leaning journalist to interview Giuliani. After the interview is done, they move to a private room where hidden cameras are installed for the production. Bakalova takes his microphone off, and as he goes to readjust his shirt, his hand stays inside of his pants. While it is impossible to say definitively whether any gross misconduct would have transpired, as Baron Cohen comes in to interrupt the two of them, the moment is hard to forget and it does not look nice.
Since the scene surfaced online, Guiliani tweeted Oct. 21 in response that “The Borat video is a complete fabrication. I was tucking in my shirt after taking off the recording equipment.” To which Baron Cohen responded on Oct. 23 on Good Morning America, “…if he sees that as appropriate, then heaven knows what he’s intended to do with other women in hotel rooms with a glass of whiskey in his hand.”
So, what is the point?
“Borat” (2006) served as a satire on the ultra-nationalism that rose under the presidency of George W. Bush. But can satire function in these times?
In the era of a political, post-truth America and “fake news,” it does not matter what crazy scenarios are filmed because anything can be written off as fake or altered. The pranks and unscripted moments ring hollow because the American public no longer trusts what we see on television or in a movie.
Baron Cohen and Bakalova are fearless as performers who do genuinely shocking things that shouldn’t be disclosed in a newspaper article. In an op-ed piece for Time Magazine, Baron Cohen even admits that he had to wear a bulletproof vest while attending a gun-rights rally because he feared for his life.
However, the film’s main goal seems to be muddled. In a time where each political side of the spectrum is so entrenched in their beliefs, will a man speaking in a silly voice and talking about his “charm” really sway anyone to vote for a different candidate?
How would going to an ultra-conservative southern hospital and telling the doctor that Borat had impregnated his daughter change anything? The awkward interactions between the doctor and characters are chuckle worthy, but there is no sense of confrontation. The clear and strong argument that men do not have the right to tell women what they can or cannot do with their bodies is never brought up.
They say that film is a mirror to reality with a filter over it. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is able to reflect reality, but reality might be too distasteful to be reflected on for a comedy.