Imagine my surprise, dear readers, when I read a few months ago that a new film starring the Borat character was in the pipeline. I had assumed the once ubiquitous character was long-dead, a mere shadow of what had been possible, but I was wrong.
You can’t particularly blame me for thinking this; after all, a film like Borat is only really something you can do once before your cover is blown. Once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s nigh-on impossible to get back in, and Sasha Boren Cohen himself has said as much in the past.
He’s also not a character that would fit well with modern sensibilities, to put it mildly. I still wonder to this day how he got away with half of the stuff he did back in the first film, and I find it even more amazing that people are willing to play along with him again fourteen years later.
It makes me wonder at what level of self-awareness the participants of this film were operating at. The first time around it’s reasonable to assume that people would be caught off guard, but now? Nearly a decade and a half since the first film? Surely you must have to be in on the joke to some extent? Either that or I’m giving Americans entirely too much credit.
So, it’s been fourteen years since Borat first journeyed to the ‘US&A’, and this film shows the aftermath of that. He’s punished for disgracing his country, sentenced to hard labour in a gulag. But he’s offered a chance at redemption by delivering a gift to Vice-President Mike Pence so that the Kazakh leader can become friends with Donald Trump.
The above is roughly all I can let on without ruining the film for you, and it is, as you would expect, as mad as a box of frogs.
As anarchic and bizarre as Borat has always been, there has also always been an undercurrent of satire to his deployment; his characters highly-exaggerated bigotry is a carefully-constructed smokescreen to allow others to feel comfortable about their own bigotry, thus exposing the inherent ridiculousness of them. After all, if they believe the same things as Borat, who we are encouraged to see as a moron, then how can we possibly take them seriously?
Its clever subversive satire is hidden, however, beneath the folds of its juvenile humour and ridiculous characters, but it is there.
In the times we currently live in, it is becoming increasingly difficult to satire political figures. While it might seem like it should be easy given the divisive figures currently holding power; because of their pronounced characters, it makes them extremely difficult to lampoon. Donald Trump is a joke by himself, he doesn’t need a satirist to come along and amplify that. But along with these characters, we have a background of societal tension that is more volatile than ever, and that’s where Borat slips into place.
Amidst all the madness of the world, the pandemic, the constant bubbling tension, and the over-grown man-children currently holding office, a perfect atmosphere for Borat to thrive has developed. Against the backdrop of the pandemic and far-right conspiracies, he doesn’t seem as out of place as he normally would.
For me, the humour to be found in Borat films have always been how the world reacts to this strange man, purportedly from a foreign country with none of our usual social norms, and how his ignorant bigotry is used as justification for their deliberate bigotry. He lulls unaware people into a false sense of security, like the rodeo scene from the first movie, for example.
Well, this film has several similar moments in which the absurdity of his character leads to certain people letting their guard down and being caught out deliciously. It’s amazing he hasn’t been found out and killed by now, but you have to applaud the bravery of his efforts in making horrible people look bad.
Bear in mind that all of this is absolutely intentional too. What with the film releasing directly before the US Election (AKA the longest five days in history) and with its crosshairs aimed directly at the Trump administration, Boren Cohen brought this character out of mothballs because it takes ridiculous characters to show up ridiculous people, and that’s exactly what he did.
The main plot of the film revolves around his daughter, their relationship, and his plan to give her as a ‘gift’ to Mike Pence. Honestly, I could take or leave this aspect of the film. There is only one string to the joke it’s trying to tell, and it already used it plenty of times last time. What I did like about it though was the gradual shift in their relationship, and the performance of Maria Bakalova who, as Borat’s daughter Tutar, was just as dedicated to the character as Cohen. She must have been to keep the act up in the situations they find themselves in. She’s the subject of the joke at the start, but by the films conclusion, both the character and her relationship with Borat are quite charming and almost sweet.
The real appeal of the film for me though was the instances of Borat messing with people, in much the same way he did before.
While I had thought it impossible to achieve the same effect again now the character is known, he somehow managed to trick people again. Culminating in him staying with a few far-right conspiracy theorists and writing a song about Obama. I remain unconvinced that these two guys weren’t actors who were in on the joke, but apparently, they weren’t, and that just makes it all the funnier.
That having been said, however, it is a film that is destined to age poorly. By making the pandemic and Trump a key factor in its satire, it timestamps the movie. In a few years, when the world has (hopefully) moved on from both of those things, this will serve as nothing more than a time capsule; and while the first film had a few topical elements itself, it was broad enough to ensure its staying power, because it focused on the craziness of Borat, and America, something that will never change.
All in all, then, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm doesn’t pull up trees like its predecessor. Its jokes are a bit staler, but its ability to use the character as a conduit for satire remain rapier-sharp. It may not be the wittiest film or raise as many laughs as before, but it does expose the inherent ridiculousness of political cults with its tongue firmly in its cheek. It probably won’t have a long legacy, but it will stand as a reminder of this strange and turbulent time.