Homer Numan

Homer Numan

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Borat The Movie

What can you say about this film? In it's opening week in the USA, it grossed over $26 million. Who says the Americans have no sense of humour?

Borat, for the uninitiated, is a character played by Sacha Baren Cohen, a Cambridge graduate whose previous crimes include the Ali G persona.

Borat purports to be a reporter from Kazikstan and the basic premise of the movie involves him being sent to the USA to do a documentary for the 'glorious nation of Kazikstan.'
The film opens with Borat giving us a tour of his home town, or to be more precise, his home street (actually filmed in Romania). He introduces the town rapist, the town mechanic, who is also the abortionist, his abusive wife and his mother (the oldest woman at 43). We are then treated to a local festival; 'the running of the Jew.'

If by this stage you have taken offence, it would be wise to head for the exit, as in terms of taste, it's all downhill from here on in.
Leaving his street in a battered car steered by a teenage boy and pulled along by a horse, Borat and his portly manager take a plane to America, where Borat proceeds to insult just about everyone, without meaning to of course.

His attempts at friendliness on the New York subway are both hilarious and shocking. The abuse he meets from fellow passengers simply by trying to shake hands says a lot for big city dwellers, and the 'accidental' release of a chicken from Borat's suitcase; 'careful he bite' is merely one of dozens of belly laughs throughout the movie.

Checking into a classy hotel, Borat begins to unpack in the lift, remarking what a lovely room he has been allocated. Upon reaching the actual room, he proceeds to wash his face in the toilet.
Yes it's that sort of film -- there's a lot of toilet humour.

He proceeds to outrage a group of feminists by asserting that 'it is proved women have brain the size of squirrel's' and shocks a driving instructor by attempting to drink a bottle of whisky whilst on the road.

Having discovered 'Baywatch' on the hotel TV, he falls in love with Pamela Anderson -- 'I wish to make love explosion on her stomach' and talks his manager into travelling to California, where Pamela lives.

Unable to afford a car, they embark on their journey in a decommisioned ice cream van, stopping along the way for encounters with a gay pride parade, a US senator somewhat shocked to be told he has just eaten cheese made from Borat's wife's breast milk and a gun store owner more than happy to recommend the best gun for 'shooting Jews.' It should be noted that Cohen himself is Jewish and the central premise of the film is to reveal hidden prejudices.

Not that they needed much revealing. An American hick at a rodeo expresses a strong preference for shooting homosexuals and Jews, whilst the assembled crowd at said rodeo are more than happy to cheer Borat's assertion that the US should bomb Iraq until not even a lizard is left alive. They only start boo-ing when he mangles the national anthem.

A visit to a dinner party at a Christian pastor's home proves particularly hilarious, Borat managing to insult the pastor's wife, mistake the word 'retired' for 'retard' and producing a bag of poo at the table. He rounds off a perfect evening by introducing a large black prostitute, at which point the good folk call the police.

A major row with his manager over the subject of 'Pamela' results in a naked tussle involving a lift full of hotel guests and a hall full of mortgage brokers having a meal. Borat's manager abandons him, leaving him with only a chicken and 17 cents for petrol. Even this generous allowance runs out quickly and he abandons the ice cream van for a crazy trip with some teenage frat boys who easily prove the most misoygnist and offensive characters in the film.

Borat winds up at a Pentecostalist Church, where the footage of the worshippers speaks entirely for itself. The sight of grown men shouting, babbling, falling over and crying is one of the most disturbing scenes in the film. Having been 'saved' and 'speaking in tongues', Borat gets a lift with the 'friends of Mr.Jesus' to Hollywood, where he is reunited with his manager and manages to track down Pamela. Having failed to persaude her to marry him by stuffing her into a sack, he returns home with his footage.

So what do we learn from Borat? Well first of all it's rib crushingly funny. But on other levels, it's both disturbing and philosophical. Borat himself is deliberately grotesque, a sexist racist with no grasp of basic decorum, yet he is likeable, an innocent abroad.
His encounters often reveal the truth behind the thin layer of 'civilised behaviour' and social etiquette, exposing the small-mindedness and grubby tribalism of the human condition.

It's rare to find a film that makes you laugh out loud yet makes you think as well. A triumph.

Harbour View Japanese Restaurant Belfast

Our neighbour recommended this restaurant, so we thought we'd give it a go.
Tucked away near the Waterfront hall, the Harbour View has an absolutely stunning harbour view, so well done whoever thought the name up.
Attentiveness is the watchword in this establishment -- the moment you walk in you're greeted by two staff members who show you to comfortable chairs complete with er harbour view (sorry I'll stop that right now).
Menus are presented and jaws are dropped. Confusing? Expensive? You've come to the right place. How about a nice set meal for one? £50 OK for you sir? Sir? Hello?
Much scratching of heads later, we dived in with a tentative order. My wife and brother-in-law went for the woosy option -- chicken and steak respectively. Being one of approx.three people in Northern Ireland who appreciates sushi, I went for the 14 piece sushi plate with a Japanese side salad to start. Our six year old daughter just had to hope for the best as children's menus are not an option here.
We were shown to our table, which was unusual to say the least. It was more like a small private bar with seats arranged in a semi-circle round a large hot plate. Our chef was actually going to cook our food at the table. Just like Burger King. Not.
He was a large friendly Japanese gentleman, armed with a couple of knives and a spatula. The meal commenced with a juggling display which delighted our daughter. The chef threw an egg into the air, caught it on the spatula without cracking it and threw it again, this time onto the cooking surface. He chopped some garlic and commenced cooking, adding ingredients from the large plate of raw meats, noodles, rice, vegatables and fish he had brought. At least you were getting to see exactly what you were eating.
My side salad arrived -- more of a main course really -- delicious. Stuffed with salmon, prawns, avocados and lots of Japanese veg, it was mighty tasty and mighty filling.
The chicken, salmon, prawns and squid (!) were excellent and my sushi platter superb.
For the finale, the chef produced a bowl of fruit pieces and ice cream, which he proceeded to set on fire. It was delicious too.
A very different dining experience and highly recommended.
The total bill came to £78 which wasn't bad considering the initial menu shock, and the service was second to none. Great stuff.

Richard Dawkins The God Delusion

I've just finished reading 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins, the surprise Autumn bestseller (over 50 thousand hardback copies sold in the UK in barely a month).
Needless to say, Mr.Dawkins comes up with few earth-shatteringly new arguments against the existence of a deity, but the sheer volume of his material, coupled with a deluge of scientific fact and a highly readable style prove to be a quite devestating combination against a subject that is, after all, an absurdly easy target.
Personally, I've never had a problem with anyone harbouring the notion of a deity within the privacy of their own brain, but unfortunately these ideas have had a tendency to escape into the real world, wreaking havoc, guilt, genocide, bigotry and intolerance.

'When one or two people have a delusion, it is classed as a mental illness -- when millions share a delusion, it's a religion. It doesn't make it any less of a delusion.'

I've just read in the Sunday Times of a wedding party in Baghdad literally blown apart by a car bomb. 23 entirely innocent people were murdered and dozens more injured in an act which defies any logic. Unless of course you factor in religious belief. The people targetted were Shi'ite Muslims -- their killers were almost certainly Sunni Muslims. It was an act depressingly familiar to the Northern Ireland experience -- terrorists claiming to represent the Roman Catholic community slaughtering innocent Protestants (and receiving a substantial electoral mandate) and vice versa.
So much for the idea that the religious somehow have high moral standards derived from God.

Dawkins stated that an argument frequently thrown at him is that non-believers can have 'no moral standards', as these are set down in the Bible or the Koran or whatever other holy book you fancy. Barbaric acts such as those above, which although carried out by a handful of fanatics, are tacitly supported within many devoutly religious communities, give the absolute lie to this statement. For any long-term conflict to exist, there is a necessity for complete demonisation of the 'other side'. Religious belief fosters this inherent notion of tribalism -- the 'safety in numbers', the 'we alone have the truth' idea. Imams and Christian preachers, as well as Sikhs and Hindus preach the absolute correctness of their own doctrine and the absolute errancy of all others. Then we throw up our hands in mock despair when Protestants and Roman Catholics, Sikhs and Hindus and Sunnis and Shi-ites clash in ever more bloody and dangerous conflicts.

Dawkins rightly criticises the western societal notion that religious leaders and their beliefs should be given creedence in the mainstream media and political spheres. Religious representatives are wheeled on to pontificate on such issues as stem cell research and euthanasia, whilst no-one thinks to ask the same questions of say, the local Star Trek fan club.
Somehow one group is more qualified to profess on moral issues than another -- deity believers are somehow better citizens than sceptics. But are they?

Non-believers do not commit any more crimes, large or small, than believers, and the court and prison statistics prove this beyond all doubt. Non-believers are not uniformly cruel, totalitarian, self-centred monsters devoid of a moral compass. We have the Fundamentalist Muslims and Christians for that.

Dawkins rails against the indoctrination of children into particular beliefs, at an age when they are entirely unable to give any subjective analysis of what is being thrown at them. The US docu-film; 'Jesus Camp' is one of the most terrifying films you are ever likely to see, because it's all true. Children as young as six really are being brainwashed into believing that they should be prepared to die for Christ, that evolutionary theory is evil, that all other religions are wrong and should be destroyed, that abortionists should be shot and bizarrely, that global warming is a lie.
Whilst this type of 'camp' is the extreme, the phenomenon of faith schools is no less harmful and divisive, and ostensibly secular countries allow this curious form of child abuse at their peril. Northern Ireland wouldn't be what it is today without faith schools, neither would 7/7 have had it's potential breeding ground of hatred.
The idea that children must automatically follow their parents' faith is a very strange one. Very few parents expect their children to follow their professions or eating habits -- that's something for the child to decide on as they grow up -- why should faith, particularly when there are so many valid (or invalid) choices available, be any different? At best, it's indoctrination, at worst it's child abuse.

Richard Dawkins is of course, a Darwinian scientist, a powerful supporter of evolutionary theory. He sets out a highly complicated subject in a readable and understandable manner, effortlessly blowing apart the fundamentalist Christian notion that evolution means that we all 'came from a rock' or that 'I'm not related to a monkey.' This blithe dismissal of a subject that most religionists know little or nothing about is every bit as insulting as stating that 'brain surgery is just messing about with a piece of meat', or (as a relative of my own seriously suggested) that a 'GPs job is nothing more than patting a patient's hand and giving out tablets.'
I personally don't pretend to know where we came from or where we're going, but I would be inclined to believe that evolution in some form is a more likely explanation than the simplistic burblings of creationism. The very fact that the religious right in America are pushing a spurious idea of 'intelligent design', which basically accepts that evolution has occured, but under 'God's guidance' is proof enough for me.

Dawkins states that the sight of a woman in a burka is 'one of the unhappiest sights on our streets today' and of course I would agree with him. What he doesn't acknowledge however, is that a large proportion of Muslim women, particularly in the west, wear these objects, and various variations of them, entirely of their own free will. Such badges of subjucation and delusion are testament to the awesome power of religious ideas to twist our perceptions of reality, to blur the lines between superstition and common sense. We may (in most cases) have been able to divest ourselves of the notions of astrology and witch burning, but the notion of a male deity who doesn't much like women remains steadfast.

Ultimately of course, it is impossible to talk anyone in or out of faith. Objective argument with a religious person is simply not possible, any more than it is possible to talk a child out of the notion of their 'imaginary friend', and indeed Dawkins includes that notion in his book. Ultimately the child must choose to retain or relinquish their imaginary friend, the difference of course being that an adult with an imaginary friend would be considered at best odd, at worst mentally ill, whereas an adult conversing with an invisible deity (inevitably a man) is considered perfectly normal.

Perhaps most depressingly of all, despite the extraordinary enlightenment on the human condition introduced through scientific progress in the last few centuries, organised religion is making a comeback. A highly dramatic, though statistically insignificant event -- 9/11, appears to have acted as a catalyst for the resurregence of religious tribal enmities. Suddenly Muslims are a dangerous fifth column of potential psychopaths, right-wing Christians are obsessive, moral jihadists in all but name and rational secularists are the scum of the earth.
Watching the downright terrifying recent Channel 4 documentary; 'The Doomsday Code', which revealed much of the USA (the most powerful nation on the planet) to be in full belief of such fanciful notions as angels, the 'end-times' and becoming 'rapture-ready', I was reminded of the line from Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 1984 hit 'Two Tribes' -- 'it's enough to make you wonder sometimes if you're on the right planet.'

Ultimately what Dawkins book proves beyond doubt is that man is a deluded animal. And woman is quite happy to go along with him.

More vicious attacks on religious belief than Dawkin's have (and will) be written, but his strength is in coming across as a decent, rational human being, the sort of person you would be delighted to have a chat with over a cup of coffee. Whether you might be as tempted to chat with an American Pentecostal preacher or a fundamentalist Imam is of course a matter of taste. But unlike the voices of radical and unquestioning belief, I'll let YOU decide.