There are only two things that could’ve made this film possible: Sacha Baron Cohen’s lawyers and his “kram” (testes) of steel. I say that because every situation in this movie is very tense. Cohen risks not only lawsuits, but his own personal safety. This makes for a film that is not only funny but also adrenaline-inducing, more so than any action movie I have sat through.
Those familiar with Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G Show are already familiar with Borat as well his other characters: Bruno the gay Austrian fashionista, and of course his main character, Ali-G the London “chav.”
All of the characters are reminiscent of the crank-call pranksters the Jerky Boys. Like the Jerky Boys, these characters allow Cohen to play with his victim’s words, but unlike the Jerky Boys, it is not crank calls that Cohen puts his characters in; it is crank situations. A comparison can also be made to the Jackass/CKY series, but it is more than mere pranks and gross-out humor.
The character of Borat himself is a bumbling, xenophobic, misogynist Kazakhstani. Cohen has often been criticized for being racist and anti-Semitic. The Anti-Defamation League complained to HBO about a segment in Da Ali G Show in which Borat sang a song called “Throw the Jew Down the Well.” Cohen himself is actually of Iranian-Jewish descent and in the film he uses the Borat character as a weapon to expose the latent racism and xenophobia in those he “preys” upon.
Witness the scene at a rodeo in Salem, Va., where before singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the crowd cheers him as he contorts the “War on Terror” to the “War of Terror,” even as he calls on the death of “every man, woman and child in Iraq, down to the lizards – and may George W. Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq.”
The Kazakhstani government has not been pleased with the release of the movie, but in the end, the joke is not on Kazakhstan but America itself. Cohen’s target is not just racism but religious extremism, corporate culture and even celebrity fixation. By taking the character over the top, Cohen subtly succeeds where a Michael Moore film would fail: there are two particularly funny scenes in which Cohen and his morbidly obese assistant Azimat run nude through a mortgage brokers’ convention. In another scene Borat attends a Pentecostal church service led by some high-ranking Republicans where the speeches and worshipers are so bizarre that they actually do Borat’s job for him.
Cohen toys not only with the external culture but also the interpersonal and psychological. In New York, Borat tours the subways trying to give hugs to fellow passengers, and teases a corporate-looking consultant whose job is to teach people to be “funny.” Thus, American culture is not only exposed as extremist but also alienating and humorless.
Some may not understand Cohen’s absurd sense of humor. In fact, this film will offend many people and titillate and amuse many others, but both camps are sure to be disturbed. Like the movie or not, Cohen’s ultimate goal is to make you think, and by disturbing his audience he succeeds.