“A Stranger in a Strange Land”

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.

If the title of this movie or the “lyrics” of the Kazakhstan national anthem (especially great when sung to the tune of America’s national anthem) don’t have you at least mildly intrigued, then you probably won’t get a lot of the dumb/smart humor going on in the movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. However, miss this one and you will be missing one of the hands down funniest movies in years. And I’m going to do my best not to spoil any of it for you.

While the movie may seem like a Ken Burns documentary filmed in someone’s basement on a lunch money budget, it is the mostly improvised road movie about a man on a quest. Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a television personality in his desperately poor and somewhat backwards (though gloriously proud) home of Kazakhstan. He goes off to the desperately wealthy and equally somewhat backwards (and gloriously proud) country of America to learn from its customs and bring home lessons for his people to learn.

I was unfamiliar with Sacha Baron Cohen’s work on Da Ali G. Show (Borat, the ever horny, cringingly bigoted, yet strangely likeable reporter, was one of his three character creations from the show). Yet Borat, along with his sidekick, Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian), become the perfect mirror to observe how outsiders perceive and are perceived by America(ns).

“We nearly died last night. This journey is cursed.” –Azamat

America has not always been kind in its treatment of “the other.” Borat, as the ultimate “other,” offers often biting commentary on how we treat “the other.” No one ever thinks of their own customs and ways as unusual unless they go outside of their culture or, in this case, have someone outside of their culture thrust into their lives. Borat comes to America and tries to understand our humor, tries to understand our culture (including our predilection for Pamela Anderson), tries to grasp how we view and treat women all the while poking fun at all aspects of our culture. From him being long on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd (how many people recalled Chris Rock’s joke about MLK Blvd and thought “RUN!”?) to his poor attempts to learn our etiquette in order to dine with high society circles, Borat leaves no one, none of our stereotypes and own backwards characters, unskewered or undermined.

“Hey, fuck off, Death.” –Borat

Borat is on his version of the hero’s journey, not just of discovery, but to claim his true love. In so doing, the movie also offers a sly commentary on religion. When Borat hits rock bottom, he experiences a rebirth via “Mr. Jesus” (although, many good “Christians” step over him in order to get into church before he stumbles in later). It is his encounter with the spiritual that renews him in order for him to continue his journey as he learns the power of forgiveness. As a part of forgiving others, Azamat and Pamela included, he even realizes that even those who hurt us are capable of much good.

“If you chase a dream, especially those with a plastic chest, you can miss the real beauty in front of your eyes.” –Borat

Not everyone is going to get Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, with its humor designed to make people uncomfortable, but it is a movie one has to experience for themselves. Doubtlessly some will be offended (thank God for the judicious, though awfully complimentary, use of a black bar during the nude wrestling scene). However, no one can say that the movie wasn’t one of the most original comedies to come down the pike in a long time. For that alone we should be grateful, that is, if it wasn’t also a side-straining hilarious movie. I guess this means that we may have a Bruno movie to look forward to. “High Five!”