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The climax of Chris Morris’s “Four Lions” takes place at the London Marathon and involves a Honey Monster (he’s the mascot for a cereal), a Wookie and two snipers. The snipers are told to shoot the Honey Monster because in that costume is a jihadi suicide bomber and one of them shoots. He’s told to shoot “the Grizzly Bear” and he shoots the Wookie. The Honey Monster huffs and puffs his way out of sight while the snipers argue about whether the victim of the police shooting is a bear or a Wookie. Talking about the scene in an interview with the New York Times, Morris said, “If you want to make a joke about the police accidentally shooting someone, you’ve basically got to disguise it with some furry costumes.” The scene is one of many brilliant scenes in “Four Lions” because on one hand you have to laugh at the hilarity of the conversation while your stomach clenches with a strange sense of dread because the situation isn’t anything to laugh about.

“Four Lions” is about a group of Muslim men who are committed to jihad and bringing the fight to corrupt West’s doorstep. Five men want to make Britain sit up and notice that the Muslims are not going to take imperialist crap any more. Not that most of them know what “imperialism” means. But it sounds good and it gives the lads something to root for and belong to, and that’s cause enough. They’re all British by birth and aside from one, all of them seem to be of Pakistani origin. Two of them even manage to get called for jihadi training in Afghanistan. Except their fumbling efforts to hit an American helicopter with a grenade launcher ends up killing Osama bin Laden. The fact is, these British jihadis are absolute jokers. They’re committed and rabid, yes, but they’re also fools, which is what makes “Four Lions” so special. You can’t help but feel affectionate about these silly boys even if everything you see them do is related to their plans of going up in flames in support of Al Qaeda and Islam as they understand it. But for the tiny detail of them being intent on blowing themselves up, they’re an adorable, goofy bunch. One raps, another is cute and stupid, and yet another is entirely dimwitted. Of the masterminds, one is white and rabid and seems to be a closet gay man. The other is a Pakistani-British guy, complete with a son and a wife who wants him to be a martyr. At one point when he’s broken away from his band of bungling brothers in arms, she tells him, “You were so much more fun when you were going to blow yourself up.” (Or something to that effect.) Yet even as Morris is making you feel all warm and fuzzy for the jihadis, he never lets the audience forget what their aims are. There are no good guys or bad guys in “Four Lions”, whether you look at the jihadis or the cops who ultimately try to stop them. There are only funny guys who are doomed to reach their tragic zenith by making you laugh. And you’ll wish you could cry instead. It would make everything so much simpler and easier to digest. But no, Morris makes you laugh. He forces you to confront the fact that we like laughing at people, and that we can laugh at details regardless of how terrifying the larger picture may be. For example, how can you not guffaw when a guy says, “Is he a martyr or a Jalfrezi?”

I think “Four Lions” might be the best film I’ve seen so far on terrorists (even if it did take me a good 30 mins to unravel that dense accent; so not the Queen’s English) and definitely among the top five films of 2010 for me. It’s not the most realistic in terms of research logical and it has very little time for actual contemporary geopolitics but it’s one of the best depictions of the absurdity of our world today. The jihadis’ plans are as much of a mess as the cops’ understanding of the situation. Not only do they kill a Wookie, they also pick up the wrong guy for interrogation, exhibiting how the authorities are unable to look past the obvious, and their methods are shown to be dishonest. The jihadi heroes meanwhile are like Shakespearean fools in a world that is frighteningly recognisable. Morris is an amazing director with outstanding comic timing. The more tragic the situation, the funnier the rendering. It sharpens the violent contrast between how you react and you really feel. As things blow up — including some dazed sheep — you find yourself howling with laughter even as some part of your brain registers how appalling and sad the whole situation is. The pendulum swings between thriller and farce constantly, which is unsettling and I can imagine many wouldn’t be comfortable. But cheers to Morris for putting an extra ha in jihad (haha, geddit? Sorry).

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8 thoughts on “Roaring Success

    • Thank you. I didn’t mean it wasn’t correct in terms of research but rather that it didn’t feel entirely logical or realistic when you look closely at some of what’s happening in the film. For example, they blow up Osama and all they lose is their luggage? Doesn’t seem likely, does it?

      But I will amend that sentence. Because really, it’s not like I’m particularly knowledgeable in matters of jihad in Britain or anywhere else so whether or not “Four Lions” is accurate in terms of research isn’t possible for me to know.

  1. Thanks for the tip; I just finished watching the movie and it’s easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year. The funniest for sure, and probably the saddest too (Moon’s the other contender). What are the other movies in your top-five-of-2010 list?

    • “Moon” was deeply depressing, in a good way. I’m actually terrible at lists but I’d definitely have “Exit Through The Gift Shop” in my list even though it was non-fiction. Also, “A Single Man”, which I loved. “Toy Story 3” was adorable, although I’m not sure whether it belongs in a “best of”. But hey, it was enjoyable. Possibly the most disturbing film I saw this year was “Dogtooth”. But I’m crap at lists and remembering release dates.

  2. I enjoyed Four Lions but felt let down by the climax(the marathon portion). It degenerated into a lot of running and screaming but the gags in between seemed to have dried up. The most savage comedies (Marx brothers, Tati,the Ealing films, Birdcage) seem always to find a way to take the comic chaos a notch higher: you’re already aware of the characters’ proclivity for stupidity but are surprised by an altogether unexpected turn of events. This I didn’t find in Four Lions. Though two moments in the climax stand out: the interrogation in the box with the little flags on the table and the SWAT team knocking off the waiter.

    My nomination for best film on jihadis goes to ‘Paradise Now’.

    • I was not expecting the Jalfrezi martyr and I certainly didn’t expect the end in the way it unfolded. I really thought that he’d change his mind or find some way out of it.

      As for the climax, there was a man in a muppet suit (albeit with a bomb) running through London. With a gag as big as that, I really didn’t need jokes in the dialogues.

      I did like “Paradise Now” but I think it was precisely how you expect a good movie on jihadis to be. Sensitive, serious, poetic and open-ended. “Four Lions” was like a bolt from the blue in its tone.

    • There was only one section where I felt it slackening but by the time they’d shot the Wookie, I’d forgotten about that bit. But yes, perhaps a more experienced director would have kept it uniformly tight. Or maybe Morris wanted it to feel a little jumpy.

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