“… instead of making me laugh, Four Lions just managed to make me uncomfortable.”
Last night I watched Four Lions, and it was an interesting experience to say the least. For those who don’t know, Four Lions is a movie about a group of Muslim guys from England who decide that they want to become terrorists. They start by trying to get into an Al-Qaeda training camp, but then eventually decide that becoming suicide bombers is the easier way to go.
Now I have heard for years that this movie is hilarious, so it’s been on my list for a while. The thing is, when I watched it last night I didn’t really understand all of the praise that it was getting. I want to preface all of this shit by saying comedy is subjective, and just because I didn’t find the movie funny doesn’t mean that it wasn’t funny. That being said, watching Four Lions was a very interesting experience because I knew that there were jokes, but I just wasn’t laughing. At most the film would get a smile out of me, but most of the times I would just be thinking “yep, there’s another joke”. Now I’m not going to go into the specifics about why I didn’t find the jokes funny, I don’t even think it’s possible for me to explain something like that, but I just wanted to point out that I wasn’t laughing as much as I wanted to throughout the film. Part of what didn’t work for me comedy-wise in the film was the fact that all of the characters were complete idiots. Usually you have one idiot, and a few semi-competent characters so the movie can progress as you would expect, but literally every character in this movie acted as though they had brain damage. This is ultimately frustrating because the plot of the movie keeps progressing, but it does so in a way that is in spite of the characters. The characters we meet keep failing, and yet the story goes on. This was annoying to me on a few different levels, but it’s still not quite what ruined the movie for me. Another strange thing in Four Lions was the introduction of a “mockumentary” style film, but then completely abandoning that idea later on. Even when nobody was filming these idiots the camera was still shaky as ever, which made me wonder why they decided to go with that plan in the first place. It was just another strange choice in an already strange movie. Despite the over-use of a “zoom in” transition, the rest of the movie was fine; but there is something else I need to get off my chest.
Four Lions is a movie about a couple of guys who want to become terrorists. That in itself is a great premise. It’s edgy, it’s original, it’s a real winner if you ask me. The problem I found was that the movie seemed to side-step having to take a hardline stance on terrorism itself. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that terrorism is bad. I know that’s a controversial opinion, and I hope that none of you are mad at me for taking that stance, but it is something that needed to be said. The issue I had with Four Lions was that it didn’t seem to want to take a stand on either side of the issue. I’m not saying that I wanted the movie to be a big “terrorism is bad” metaphor”, lord knows we don’t need too be spoon-fed as an audience, but the problem I had was the movie seemed to be alright with the act of terrorism. Instead of showing us how stupid terrorism is, the film shifted that stupidity onto its characters; making them the butt of the joke instead of what they believe in. The main character in the film, Omar (played by Riz Ahmed), is the most functional of the main group of characters. He has a family, he is well-spoken, but he really truly believes that terrorism is the answer. He goes home at night and tells his wife about his plans to strap a bomb to himself and blow up innocent people, and then he goes into his son’s room and tells him about how great it is to kill yourself to serve your god. I could understand if this movie was just about some idiots who thought terrorists were cool until they finally realized what terrorism is, but these actions from this one character in particular didn’t sit right with me. It’s like the movie was trying to tell me “people have different opinions, and that’s okay”. Well, it’s not really okay, is it? Killing yourself along with as many innocent people as you can is not okay just because you believe it is, is it? If not, then what was the movie trying to say? I understand that the ending showed Omar changing (some of) his opinions, but then it kind of reverts those changes immediately. I’m not saying that Four Lions was a type of propaganda film, but I’m just saying that it giving reason to the arguments of terrorists just didn’t sit right with me. That would be like making a comedy set during WWII about some kids who wanted to be Nazis, and accomplish that goal by finding a local jewish kid and beating him to death. That’s not funny is it? Then why is the act of terrorism funny? This may make me sound like I have a stick up my ass, but I do want to point out that I am in no way offended by this movie. As a matter of fact, I think being offended by art in general is kind of pointless. All I’m saying is that instead of making me laugh, Four Lions just managed to make me uncomfortable. And to top all of this off the film seems to have this weird running gag of having the police be guilty of racial profiling. This confused me even more than the possible “pro-terrorism” message because if it’s saying that racial profiling is bad, then why would you make a movie where a bunch of Muslim men want to be terrorists? Isn’t that propagating these stereotypes? Like I said at the beginning: Watching Four Lions was a very weird experience for me.
Overall Four Lions is a movie where I recognized most of the jokes, but they just didn’t make me laugh. The movie was well made, but the muddled messages kind of ruined my experience. Watching Four Lions was a very strange experience that left me feeling ill afterwards.
I give Four Lions a C