Borat Will Always Be Sacha Baron Cohen’s Masterpiece
Wawaweewa! On Sacha Baron Cohen’s birthday, we’re celebrating Borat; a gut-churning, fearless masterpiece, the culprit behind our guiltiest laughs.
Through embarrassment, cringe, violence and many, many lawsuits, the actor sits among entertainment’s greatest tricksters, from Ali G’s ‘Is it cause I is Black?’ to Bruno’s urethra shouting his name. To the frigid, he’s ‘worse than cancer’ – to the liberated, he’s an icon.
Baron Cohen unleashed Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan in 2006. Soon, he’ll return in Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm on Amazon Prime. Love him or hate him, Kazakhstan’s greatest reporter will live forever.
Is Borat the new millennium’s most quotable movie? I was nine years old when it was first released, yet even I succumbed to the parroting of ‘Very nice!’, ‘My wife!’ and ‘High five!’ either via the web, the playground or simply cultural osmosis. The world was gaga for Borat.
Of course, my parents didn’t allow me to watch… until around a year later. At that age, the brutality of certain moments flew over my head – ‘Not too much raping, human only’ – while others had me on the floor, drowning in my own cackling tears as Borat and Azamat fight naked in the hotel lobby over a masturbatory betrayal.
A little later in life, the full scope of Borat’s ambition became clear; crude slapstick aside, its ruthless, incisive mockery of America is its ‘great success’. When The Simpsons writer George Meyer first watched the film, he reportedly turned to Superbad director Judd Apatow and said, ‘I feel like someone just played me Sgt. Peppers for the first time.’
The film follows Borat Sagdiyev, a journalist sent to ‘the greatest country in the world’ at the behest of the Kazakh Ministry of Information.
‘Although Kazakhstan a glorious country, it have a problem, too: economic; social; and Jew,’ he explains, leaving his ‘moron’ wife, ‘pain in my assholes’ neighbour and sister, who’s also the ‘number four prostitute in all of Kazakhstan’, behind.
Soon, he arrives in the US with ‘clothings, US dollars, and a jar of gypsy tears to protect me from AIDS’ in a bid to learn more about its hilariously, horrifyingly oblivious residents. Later, he becomes infatuated by Pamela Anderson and reroutes his journey to ‘make romance explosion on her stomach’.
In its more harmless interviews, he tries to learn comedy (NOT!), tells the Veteran Feminists of America they have brains as small as squirrels and warns a suburban woman against using gypsy magic to shrink him.
In other scenes, Borat’s outrageousness plays off like innocence against the real-world bigotry and jingoism of America. During the infamous Salem rodeo sequence, he tells the organiser, ‘We hang homosexuals in my country!’ He responds, ‘That’s what we’re trying to do here.’
Before singing Kazakhstan’s sacrilegious national anthem, he rallies the surrounding cloud by applauding the ‘war on terror’, met with cautious euphoria as he declares, ‘May George Bush drink the blood of every man woman and child in Iraq!’
Yet, despite bearing witness to the road-tripping frat boys’ misogyny or a southern eating club’s enraged racism, the laughs are irrepressible. Resistance is futile when it comes to Borat; surrender to the pop dancing, its trenchant satire is built to be relished.
If only it weren’t for its concurrent, irritable legacy. Watching Borat, you quickly sail past the catchphrases and mankinis. However, experiencing Borat’s impact as a spectator, one wouldn’t be judged for deeming it stupid or annoying (hearing ‘Very nice!’ over and over sans context doth butter no parsnips).
To put its stature to the test, I recently showed Borat to my girlfriend for the first time. Understandably, she was a little apprehensive – not just because of what she expected, but the stakes of where she’d stand come the credits. Imagine the pressure of someone sitting you down to watch Airplane! for the first time. A lack of laughter surely indicates a bankrupt sense of humour.
Fear not, the chuckles began as Baron Cohen’s smoochy journo chased a man down the street. While she often held her head in her hands, mouth agape, there were giggles a-plenty.
That’s its power: managing to completely, miraculously hilarious and hopeless while showcasing the insidious undercurrent of conservative western attitudes. It may seem like it, but Borat’s home country was never a target; only America.
Kazakhstan tabloid Karavan even dubbed it the film of the year, with Andrei Shukhov writing that it’s ‘certainly not an anti-Kazakh, anti-Romanian or anti-Semitic… it is a cruelly anti-American movie. It is amazingly funny and sad at the same time. I think this is the best film of the year’.
Tonic, critic, comic, provocateur, legend; Borat will always be the king in the castle.
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm will be released on Amazon Prime on October 23.
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