Monday, 24 May 2010

Four Lions

I went to see Four Lions yesterday. For a number of reasons:
  1. Saying you love going to the cinema, but then mainly staying at home as if you secretly prefer to wait for everything to come out on DVD is not cool. And I do love going to the cinema.
  2. The last film I saw at the cinema was Mic-Macs, and that was rubbish. Not even "bad in a good way".
  3. I've yet to be disappointed by anything Chris Morris has made. Even when it's not LOLZ funny, it's always intelligent.
  4. It's bloody hot, and the air conditioning in the Watershed cinemas is always pretty reliable.
The thing that surprised me most was how weirdly, unerringly humane the film feels. There's a real respect for the characters as people, even if they're idiots setting out to perform a terrifying, inexplicable, reprehensible act. The fact that these uber-clumsy suicide bombers remain somehow sympathetic (unbelievably!) is what makes the film much more resonant and thought-provoking than the excoriating (perhaps more reactionary?) satire I was expecting from Chris Morris. I've been thinking about it all day.

"Fuck mini Babybels." 

Importantly, it is also fucking hilarious. I was proper snorting and guffawing in the cinema like I haven't done since probably The South Park Movie. [I only saw In The Loop on DVD]. I can't wait to see it again - and that's mainly to catch some more quotable lines.  I am already using, and will continue to use the phrase, "we're eating our SIM cards" in a matter of fact tone, to indicate any activity that could be deemed normal or rational: like breathing. Or walking into a room.

I once had a debate with someone about whether The Thick of It was farce or not. To my mind, it was obviously farce in terms of genre, but my mate struggled to label it as such, because in his mind the word "farce" equated to simplistic, unsophisticated comedy. Reading some of the reviews of Four Lions, I get a sense that a fair few people are disappointed that the film is clearly a farce - as if that undermines any intellectual weight it might have. That argument doesn't make sense to me. Just because the film works beautifully as a knockabout runaround in the Ealing comedy mode (and who doesn't love a good Ealing comedy?), doesn't mean it therefore undermines the thought and care that has gone into the characters, or diminishes the film's treatment of suicide bombing as terrifying and unjustfiable.

Perhaps the cleverest choice is in the film's refusal to offer any explanations of how these numpty jihadists come to the point of wanting to kill themselves and others for a heaven that equates to being on the rides rather than in the queues at Alton Towers. There is no attempt to rationalise their drive. Even between themselves, their reasoning is unsure and mobile... a sort of feedback loop of uncertain understanding and 'belief' made believed only by desperate reiteration. The characters are so beautifully played, that they remain sympathetic right to the end, and the tragedy is that all the while you feel that their instincts are telling them that what they're about to do is wrong. By refusing to give us any reasons for what drove them to take this course of action, the film humanises the suicide bombers. Right up to the end, you feel like each one of them could choose not to go through with it. That's a pretty amazing achievement I'd say; and about a million miles away from Spooks, and most of the rest of the media for that matter. Maybe if we feel like we could change their minds beforehand, we'll try and do that before we feel like we have to shoot the wrong man in the head.