Four Lions (2010, dir. Christopher Morris)
For fifteen years British satirist and comedian Christopher Morris skewered media culture and politics through a variety of radio and television programs. Most notably Brass Eye, a mock news magazine show that focused on the exploitative nature of news, and Nathan Barley, a series that followed a fictional web media hipster and looked at the buffoonish nature of a lot of tech people. It comes as no surprise that now Morris has taken on the current war on terrorism and Islamic extremism in our culture’s psyche. It sounds like an outlandish concept to make a slapstick comedy about Islamo-British terrorists, but Morris has the satiric chops to deliver it such a skilled way, and this kind of film demands a very subtle hand to make it work.
Omar is the head of a small unaffiliated terrorist cell in England. He and his friends are surprisingly sympathetic in how pathetic they are. All of them feel insignificant so when given the idea that to martyr themselves would make them heroes they jump on it. Sticking out like a sore thumb in the group is Barry, a man of British descent who is actually the most militant of them all. Omar and Barry clash when the former is invited to a training camp in Pakistan because his uncle is involved. The films jumps back and forth with an episodic nature, and will with out a doubt challenge you because its characters are incredibly endearing. Part of your brain roots for them because they are classic underdogs, but then the intellectual side steps in and says you can’t root for people who plan on blowing themselves and others up for an imaginary concept.
There are some great comedic moments in the film. I loved that to stay under the radar of British officials, the cell communicates via a Puffin Party webchat for children. The chat requires them to have multicolored puffin avatars. At one point, the car breaks down and Barry blames it on the Jews, at which point he is asked which part of the engine is Jewish, and a conversation ensues. Barry also demands they swallow the SIM cards from their cell phones, after which Omar reminds them the SIM cards can still be tracked inside them. Much comedy comes out of the training camp sequence, and I won’t ruin the big reveal of its largest gag but its a good one.
What shocked me was how, during the final sequence when the crew has assembled to perform the bombing during a cancer fun run in London, I felt incredibly sad for them all. Omar especially sees it as wrong to get Waj, the simpleton of the group, to blow himself up. The end credits are composed of fictional news reports about the events in the film, and they made the story feel even sadder. Instead of going the easy route and presenting terrorists as one dimensional monsters, Morris makes them painfully real and relatable. The result is that we still believe terrorism is wrong, but its because of the waste of life that is the result. Omar has a loving wife who is not an oppressed woman and a son who loves him unconditionally, so his sacrifice feels incredibly empty.