angelophile: (Doom Laughing)
[personal profile] angelophile

Chris Morris' new comedy comes from a dark place. Four Lions tells the story of five unlikely British jihadists with abstract dreams of glory, bent on becoming suicide bombers and creating mayhem at the London Marathon. Not exactly the standard route for comedy you might think, and you'd be right.

Chris Morris is one of Britain's most savage satirists, if not the most savage. His expose and satire of the media's obsession with pedophiles in the Brass Eye pedophile special earned him notoriety – rightly so. His humor is both deeply funny and deeply, deeply uncomfortable.

So, when he turned his eye towards jihadists following the 7/7 London bombings, there was a definite discomfort. Chris Morris started to do meticulous research into modern jihadism. He apparently read the story of five jihadists planning to ram a US warship. They packed their launch with explosives and stepped in. It sank. This was apparently the real life inspiration behind Four Lions.

Morris said: "I had a press card and watched the Bluewater trial and got to hear a lot of MI5 surveillance tapes of the suspects, and you start to realise these people are klutzing around in a very average way - like men at stag parties or five-a-side football. Everyone reporting on it knew it was like The Keystone Cops. The police thought it was funny and would sometimes surreptitiously play the funniest bits of their material to the journalists. There were loads of surveillance tapes that cruelly exposed very average conversation."

The end result of this research is a movie that has been described as the War on Terror's Dr. Strangelove. To describe it as uncomfortable viewing is understating it. But with fear considered the jihadists' greatest weapon, the movie strips that away and make them figures of fun and even sympathy, in an intelligent way. Ridicule has often been the best response to terror and that's partly what is presented here, as well as humanizing the people who, perhaps inexplicably to many, decide to strap explosives to themselves and end lives.

The film revolves around Omar, the 'intelligent' one of the group, (although that is a relative term), a family man who you can almost empathize with, even when he's reworking The Lion King as a jihadi for his son's bedtime story. He's never turned into a stereotype and even when you know what he's planning, he remains human. He's joined on his mission by Waj, an endearing idiot; Fessal, the harmless idiot who makes Waj look like a genius; Barry, a convert to Islam who's by far the most violent and fanatical, but equally dense; Malik “The Mal” Hassan, who thinks he's the Pakistani Tupac. The group are subtlely and brilliantly brought to life by Riz Ahmed, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak, Adeel Akhtar and Arsher Ali.

Throughout, the film avoids attempting offense at Islamic beliefs – this isn't South Park, but something far more thought provoking. The target of the satire is not the average Muslim, but ill-informed belief of any kind. The only people this movie should really be offensive to is jihadists and others who make a moral cause out of their hatreds. “Terrorism is about ideology,” Morris has said in a statement to accompany Four Lions, “but it’s also about berks.” Four Lions sets out to expose the idiocy of those who believe that bringing about the death of others advances their cause and does so through farce. It's not the only subject for the satire – the security forces and war on terror also become the target of some biting criticism.

And there's no doubt the movie is farcical and often absurd, in poor taste and its humour broad, but it's also razor sharp in other areas. As much as you might laugh and the plain "let's laugh at the stupid people" school of comedy on display, you're drawn into feel for and even sympathize with the characters, which makes the film all that more affecting and even shocking. It's a very impressive thing that the movie reminds you that the people who carried out the atrocities like those in Madrid and London were exactly that – people, in many ways average, who did evil, desperate things. By putting a face to the faceless, the movie is chilling. By putting the face of idiots to the faceless it almost entirely pricks that bubble of fear. It's a deft balance of both making you think and making you laugh. Somehow Morris makes you both sympathetic to the terrorists while destroying their mythos of fear.

Make no bones about it – this is a provocative movie that will unsettle and discomfort you. But it'll also make you laugh, whether you have a taste for pitch black comedy or for simple pratfalls. And being able to do both is a skill that Chris Morris should be applauded for.

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July 2013


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