Parenthood has seriously put a crimp in our moviegoing activities, but every now and again Alice and I get to go see something, and we always try to pick a good one. We scored big on Saturday night, with Chris Morris's Four Lions, a farce about British "homegrown terrorists" that had us squirming and laughing in equal measure.
Morris is legendary in the UK for his fearless send-ups of media scare-stories. Programs like Brass Eye (a TV series that hoaxed politicians and pop stars into condemning imaginary drugs, skewered pedophilia panic, and so forth) made his reputation as a prankster and searing critic of idiotic, media-fuelled popular delusions.
Homegrown terrorism is a perfect subject for Morris's scalpel and sledgehammer: here in the UK, "homegrown terrorism" has been the basis for laws prohibiting looking at certain website, laws allowing for secret spying, laws allowing for groundless stop-and-searches, laws suspending habeas corpus, and advertising campaigns encouraging Britons to go through each others' rubbish bins looking for evidence of bomb-making equipment.
But in Morris's Four Lions (as in real life), homegrown jihadism is real and alive — and hopeless (also largely true to real life, where most of these nefarious supercriminals succeed primarily in killing themselves). Five suicide bombers conspire to blow themselves up to strike a blow for radical Islam against corrupt British society. Two travel to Pakistan for terrorist training (they don't fare very well — unsurprising given that one of them is convinced that heaven is like the Rubber Dingy Rapids ride at the Alton Towers coaster park); in their absence, Barry, the white convert and super-radical, makes an even bigger hash of their domestic operation.
A recurring theme is the jihadis' attempt to make their martyrdom videos, presented as a series of bloopers as they repeatedly attempt to articulate their mission and its justification (one of the terrorists, Faisal, appears with a cardboard box over his head because his confused father has told him that having an image made of his is haram).
On the other side of the war on terror, the bulbs are no brighter. The crack anti-terrorism squads and stern government ministers match the jihadis for idiocy, incompetence, and incoherent ideology.
But it's not all broad caricature; by showing us the story from the bombers' perspective, Morris gets well into our discomfort zone (especially with the tender family scenes with Omar, the protagonist, whose loving wife and son are entirely supportive of his plan to kill himself). Picture Spinal Tap for suicide bombers and you'll get the picture.
Four Lions was the sort of movie that had us alternately laughing and covering our eyes, and we spent the whole weekend talking about it.