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Offensive "Borat" Addresses Stereotypes, Reveals Prejudices

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2007 3 Mar
  • COMMENTS
Offensive "Borat" Addresses Stereotypes, Reveals Prejudices

Release Date:   March 6, 2007
Rating:  R (for graphic nudity, pervasive crude and sexual humor, profanity)
Genre:  Comedy
Run Time:  84 min.
Director:  Larry Charles
Actors:  Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell, Pamela Anderson

WARNING:  The following review contains discussion of mature subject matter that is not suitable for young readers.   

British actor Sacha Baron Cohen, who first created the character of “Borat” for his comedy “Da Ali G Show,” has now reprised and expanded that role with this box office and critically-acclaimed hit comedy.  Although few of the scenarios are original (some are lifted straight from the show), Cohen and fellow screenwriters Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer take things to a new extreme here.  Whether you appreciate the gags, however, will depend entirely upon your sense of humor.

We first meet Borat Sagdiyev (Cohen) in his native village in Kazakhstan, where he introduces us to the town rapist (“Naughty!  Naughty!”), the town mechanic “and abortionist” and various family members, including a foul-mouthed mother and his sister (“Fourth-ranked prostitute in country!”) whom he kisses passionately. 

Actually filmed in a Romanian village, Borat’s surroundings are intended to confirm every cliché Westerners hold about Eastern Europe.  Livestock run wild and immorality abounds.  People live in grimy shacks and are extremely racist.  This is demonstrated by the annual Running of the Jew, where a paper-Mache Jewish character runs through the streets to mockery and intense abuse.  After his wife, “Mrs. Jew,” lays an egg, the villagers shout that it must be killed.

Here we see the beginnings of the film’s strategy.  Although shocking, Cohen, who is an observant Jew, is attempting to mock stereotypes, culturalism and racism by transforming himself into the very clichés that we both dread and fall prey to.  He continues this when he travels to the “U.S. and A.” to make a documentary about American culture.

Arriving in New York with his producer, Azamat (Ken Davitian), Borat mistakes an elevator for his hotel room then washes his face in the hotel toilet.  He then discovers Pamela Anderson while watching reruns of “Baywatch” – and proceeds to masturbate every time he sees her on TV (which is a lot).  Before leaving New York, Borat meets with a comedy coach, where he struggles to understand Americanisms, and a group of feminists, which he repeatedly insults.   

Borat sets off for California, in order to persuade Anderson to become his bride.  Worst case scenario, he figures, he’ll just “make sexy” with her.  Borat likes to “make sexy,” by the way.  During his cross-country trip, we are treated to a mixture of staged situations and mock interviews, during which Cohen impersonates Borat (as he did in all the media interviews, prior to the film’s release), making participants believe they are actually being interviewed for a foreign documentary.  Suffice to say, this has triggered more than a little outrage and even a few lawsuits.  Political incorrectness is the watchword, however, and Borat hits it on every level.  The only groups he does not insult – interestingly enough – are Latinos and Muslims.

When Borat buys his car (an ice cream truck), he asks the salesman how fast he needs to go to kill a group of “gypsies,” to which the salesman replies, “35 to 40 miles per hour.”  He takes driving lessons while sipping on a liquor bottle and leering and shouting at female drivers.  He gets drunk with fraternity boys from South Carolina, who spew racism and misogyny.  

At a yard sale, Borat insists a shopper is a gypsy, to her face.  He buys a gun, after explaining that he wants to kill Jews (no questions asked).  He hangs out on Martin Luther King Drive late at night, where he learns to dress and talk like a rapper, before entering a luxury hotel with his pants around his hips.  And, he visits a rodeo in Virginia, where a man shares that he believes that homosexuals should all be hanged.  There, Borat is invited to sing the national anthem. Instead, he sings his own national anthem, to the tune of ours – and is almost killed in the process (despite its silly lyrics):

"Kazakhstan greatest country in the world.
All other countries are run by little girls.
Kazakhstan number one exporter of potassium.
Other countries have inferior potassium."

One particularly disturbing scene occurs when Borat goes to a church and pretends to find “Mr. Jesus.”  On the one hand, it’s shocking to see churchgoers stepping over him on their way into the church, as Borat sleeps, propped up against the front door.  On the other hand, once inside, the worshippers appear very sincere, and they not only welcome the desperate Borat as few others have, but they also share the gospel with him, in a very clear way.  But after Borat claims that he’s saved, begins to cry and falls onto the floor, supposedly slain in the Spirit, you can’t help but shake your head at his audacity. 

Not surprisingly, “Borat” has infuriated Kazakhstan and its president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev.  The Kazakhstan Embassy in Washington has denounced it and, after the film’s theatrical release, Kazakhstan began running television and newspaper ads about their country.  The Romanian government has also protested, saying that they were tricked into allowing the footage. 

The hype surrounding “Borat” has been non-stop, with the film exploding out of the box office and even garnering an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay.  Is it the best comedy of the year?  Maybe, but that’s not saying very much.  Is it funny?  Yes, especially, when Cohen steers clear of the vulgarity – but that isn’t often.  Of course, there were times when I laughed despite myself, simply because it was so shocking.  Sad but true.  I wouldn’t want to see it again, however. 

“Borat” is a new genre of comedy that is certain to provoke copycats, but which won’t be appreciated by everyone.  The main problem is that the film is so gratuitously vulgar.  Many Christians will be extremely offended, in fact.  Of course, Cohen intends to offend, in order to reveal our deepest prejudices – something he definitely accomplishes.  The film also has a strong message about stereotypes and the subtle racism that still exists in our country.  That’s a good thing.  But to get there, we have to wade through a lot of nudity, foul language, scatology and crude humor – in addition to an extended scene that makes fun of the faith.  For most, that’s not worth the price of this rental.

AUDIENCE:  Adults only

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Five extended/deleted scenes
  • Deleted footage montage featuring never-before-seen clips
  • Publicity Tour Montage including appearances at The Toronto International Film Festival, Cannes, Comic-Con and others

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:   Multiple uses of alcohol throughout film, including several scenes where people are extremely drunk.
  • Language/Profanity:   Extreme, including several dozen uses of f- and other strong obscenities and profanities, as well as crude slang and multiple uses of racist terms (including n-).
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:   Extreme (although genitals are mostly obscured).  Numerous vulgar references to sex, anal sex, and even sex with animals.  Several scenes where the main characters masturbate.
  • Violence:   Men fight in the nude and various physical comedy situations, including gratuitous destruction of property; man attempts to abduct woman and is attacked by security guards; multiple references to and shots of guns; rodeo accident in which horse and rider fall.