Borat is often dismissed as a movie with crude, politically incorrect humour made solely for shock value; and while yes, it does tick all the above boxes, I feel like you’d be missing what made Borat from a ‘Jackass’ film (although there is definitely a place for films like that and they are a guilty pleasure of mine). Just as Matt Stone and Trey Parker were about to make a living off turning their crude animation, South Park, into a political satire machine, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat was already turning heads in a similar manner, if many realised it or not.
Borat follows the titular character, a Kazakhstani television personality who travels to America to learn its culture. As we watch Borat publically defecate, streak and offend his way throughout his travels, Borat meets with a variety of people with differing socio-political viewpoints. Borat himself is very politically incorrect, having very questionable opinions on women, homesexuals and Jews; it is where the character gets many of his criticisms. Much of the comedy comes from Borat interacting with American and observing how they react to his extreme viewpoints. It is also where it’s most profound statements on Americans are found.
By playing a buffoon, Sacha Baron Cohen essentially levels those with a similar viewpoint to Borat’s standards. He can bring out the worst of people by just going along with the absurd things they. He has the ability to make fun of the person right in front of him without him realising that they are being made fun of. This possibly causes an unwanted effect in that many will laugh along because they agree with the statements being said, just like the subject Borat is interviewing.
I think there is something to be said about his portrayal of a Kazakhstani. Borat does paint a bad picture of the people and culture of Kazakhstan. Borat is nonetheless an endearing character and I think it says something that Borat’s ignorance is build out of his child-like innocence while the many Americans we see who agree with his viewpoints often have their ignorance built from something much more sinister. It’s especially notable when Bobby Rowe, a manager of a rodeo show, talks about homosexuals and Muslims in a very negative light, with Borat passively accepting his viewpoint; not unlike how information is given to children. It is interesting, then, how his more open-minded subjects seem much more like normal people. His interview with the women and the comedian and particularly the Jews, director Larry Charles makes a distinct point to show off their ‘good’ side, for a lack of a better term.
Whether you agree with the underlying messages or not, there is no denying that Borat Is a very clever film. It’s mockumentary format is creative, one of the few to blend real life with fictional characters. It does its job well to portray the extremes of America and it is hilarious. It feels almost important over a decade later with the climate we’re currently in. I bet Borat would have a lot to say about America today.