A review of the second Borat film written and produced by Sasha Baron Cohen.
By Ben Rigney-Carroll, ’21.
Written and produced by Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a well-timed breath of fresh air released at a time when its message may be most valuable. Borat, also played by Baron Cohen, is a character that first appeared in the original film in 2006. He represents an exaggerated stereotype of American ignorance and misogyny projected on some middle eastern countries. Supposedly coming from a country whose culture is falling behind the first world, the first film is a mockumentary where the Kazak government sends Borat to the “US of A” to learn the first world American culture. Upon arrival, Borat and his producer Azamat Bagatov (played by Ken Davitian) are the only characters who know they are being filmed. Throughout the rest of the film, Borat causes havoc on his journey across the country all while subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) exposing the racist, xenophobic, misogynistic or otherwise misguided ideas that otherwise may not be called out. Though the first film received numerous lawsuits for its portrayal of many participants who were not fully aware of their role in the fim, any lines delivered by those in the film were unprovoked.
The second film follows a similar formula. With another journey to America, Borat is tasked with gifting his 15-year-old daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), to someone close to the American “throne” as a child bride. Starting out early in the movie with a remark by Borat referring to his daughter as “livestock,” one of the core themes of this satirical comedy is the way Tutar comes into her own when brought to a place where women are independent and represent themselves. While all the mayhem of the first film is still present here, the focus of the movie this time is more concerned with the emotional development of both Borat and Tutar as they are forced to acknowledge the varied and contradicting prejudice of their home country of Kazakhstan to that of America.
The reality here is that different types of people are labeled narrowly by ideas born out of ignorance. Although I cannot speak for any groups that this movie might offend, I can speak for the human empathy that the characters gain in response to learning the flaws of their ways. The first Borat film is quite possibly more outlandish than this one, but when the satire in the first film is implied, and in my opinion goes too far at the expense of those mocked, this film does a better job of addressing the need for growth as a part of the arc for the central characters. Though the goal of this film was not to make a profound impact on those filmed, seeing the way that they think and behave in an environment that many of us would not otherwise see firsthand gives us the opportunity to address our own biases if we are willing to be open-minded enough to do so.
Aside from the core message of this movie, Baron Cohen also spends plenty of time in this film with a more crude and traditional approach to humor with vulgar language, wildly inappropriate sexual references and a massive lean into the morality and values of American politics. Unlike the first film, this movie was filmed in an election year. Like many other comedians, Baron Cohen has embraced the raw comedic material that is the US of A over the last year. With two vastly different candidates in an era of stark political polarization thrown together with ten months of a global pandemic, the process for generating material was a bit different in this movie than in more traditional comedies. Restricted in both movement and filming due to COVID-19, Baron Cohen quickly integrated the plot of the film to neatly accommodate the divide the pandemic has driven between sections of the American population. Addressing newly relevant and sometimes overwhelming issues like political brainwashing of the virus, quarantine and QAnon conspiracies, the Borat formula of wild absurdity looks at the events of present day with the childish outlook we might have had on them a year ago.
Though it may no longer hold the absurdity the first did in a time where exposing racists and homophobes doesn’t hold the same weight it did in 2006, Borat Subsequent still manages to stay relevant and evolve to the standards of the current era while shifting its formula to include a stronger plot. With the addition of Tutar, the same wild mock Kazakh dance music, a new array of humorous lawsuits for defamation, along with what appears to be a well-informed look at growth from the misguidence of existing ignorance, Baron Cohen brings new life to this fantastic character. Simply put, this movie is not only a blast, but also insightful for those willing to look closely.