By Rebecca M. Alvin
Top Image: Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.
All Images courtesy of Amazon Studios.
In 2006 Sacha Baron Cohen released his incredibly funny, yet scathing critique of American society with the first Borat film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. As it happens, I recently re-watched that film with my teenage daughter and was astounded at how prescient it was; it seemed even more relevant now than when it came out 14 years ago in a very different climate. Well Cohen is back now with the sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan a.k.a Borat 2. And what a sequel it is, focusing its critiques more sharply on American misogyny, anti-Semitism, and science-phobia, again driving home the point that there is a very thin line between so-called backward countries and at least certain segments of the U.S. in 2020.
The story begins with Cohen’s character Borat, a journalist from Kazakhstan, explaining that ever since the first Borat movie was a hit in the United States and around the world, he has been a pariah in his native Kazakhstan. Imprisoned, tortured, and exiled, he is relieved when a government official contacts him with a mission to redeem himself by presenting an important gift to the White House in order to foster a strong connection for Kazakhstan with “MacDonald” Trump. It’s decided that Mike Pence will be the recipient of the gift, which as it turns out is Borat’s own daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova), whom he has just recently met. With this hero’s journey as its structure, the film progresses as the first one did, incorporating documentary elements with hilarious satire, often unbeknownst to the “characters” in the film, including an anti-abortion clinician who is willing to overlook incest in the name of counseling a 15-year-old girl against terminating her pregnancy; a pair of QAnon followers who explain with a straight face how Hillary Clinton drains blood from children; a plastic surgeon who reassures a girl that her nose won’t look like a Jew’s; and of course none other than Trump attorney Rudy Guiliani flirting with a young girl with his hands in his pants in one of the most talked about scenes of the year.
The incredibly creepy, cringey moments that make both films so memorable are one thing, but what I like about both Borat films is the complex layers of its sociological explorations. On the one hand there is something almost endearing about this naive kind of tolerance that comes through in a scene where a group of patient Republican women hold their tongues and awkwardly applaud Tutar as she reveals to them her discovery of masturbation, for example. But at the same time, this very same tolerance shows itself to be a discomfort with making waves or asking questions (the “banality of evil” to quote Hannah Arendt) in other scenes such as one in which Borat requests help from a delivery man to nail shut a crate with his daughter inside of it. The man simply does what he’s being paid to do, not once hesitating or questioning the ethics of caging a child—sound familiar? It’s scenes like these that ring so horribly true in the current political climate where “just following orders” somehow masquerades as “draining the swamp” of corrupt government and exercising one’s personal freedom.
Borat 2 is a finely constructed fiction hybrid, so editing, writing, choices of which real-life characters to include, and the ultimate goals of both entertaining and shaking us up as Americans about to vote in the election of our lifetime, remove it from pure documentary reality. And yet there is a greater truth to this film and it pushes on a nerve because of the reality it documents even within its absurd storyline. It’s both a welcome laugh-until-tears-pour-out-of-your-eyes comedy and a disturbing, painful experience because what it ultimately documents is the horror of complacency, lack of compassion, and willful ignorance on the part of an enormous amount of Americans.
While Borat 2 doesn’t match the first film in its brilliance and originality and sometimes descends into silliness, it is still a sequel to watch, especially at this particular moment in time. I would not miss this film for the world, if I were you.
Borat 2, directed by Jason Woliner, is streaming on Amazon Prime beginning Friday, October 23.