Movie Review: "Borat"
By Rabbi Joel Hoffman
My purpose of seeing a movie, which I only get to about 2-3 times per year, is not to be morally moved or intellectually stimulated -- I get a large dose of intellectual stimulation every day from my personal studying of Jewish texts, as well as writing, teaching, and discussing issues at work. Rather, my purpose in going to a movie is to escape for an hour and half to be entertained by either a good drama or humor. Borat exceeds with the later. In fact, Borat was the funniest movie I have ever seen! After the first twenty minutes I almost had to take break because my sides hurt so much from laughing. And after the movie my lower face was sore for about twenty minutes from having laughed so much.
People have criticized Borat as being offensive, as well as for failing to be on the level of a Charlie Chaplin satire (i.e., Aish.Com). Many religious leaders have also passed judgment on the movie, writing a negative review, without having seen it. All of this tells me more about the person who wrote the review than about the movie.
Borat is indeed full of junior high "potty humor" -- so much so that it makes The Howard Stern Show sound like family programming. But Borat is also a comic genius, and a pioneer in a new style of humor and satire (which I am not saying is morally good, bad or neutral; I'm just not saying). Borat is also a snapshot of real American life, though many would rather not admit to this in our so-thought time of sophistication, tolerance and acceptance.
Borat's speaking of Hebrew reminded me of Megillat Esther where it says "a 'pur' is a 'lot'." Pur is a Persian word which the Megillah informed us was a "lot" in Hebrew, which was a code for Divine Providence because the masses of Jews at the time believed that God controlled everything. Therefore, a hidden message for insiders, which were the Jews, that everything will turn out okay. Borat speaking Hebrew, I think, was an inside joke for Jews and was the ultimate in satire in exposing anti-Semitism in America.
As foreign as Borat may appear, he is actually very American. I say this, in part, because of his obsession with Pamela Anderson (almost every American male under the age of 35 can relate to this!), and his trying to fit in. All of this is satire on satire, if you will.
Also Borat's cross-country tour reminded me of other American classic comedies such as "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," "Smokey and Bandit" (I but not II), and "Beavis and Butthead Do America" where everyone was also after a prize. Why is it that the context for some of the funniest movies ever made is traveling across the United States?
Abraham had to leave his birthplace to become who he became, and in this week's parasha the Torah doesn't just tell us that Jacob went to Haran, but that he left Beer-Sheva to go to Haran. Leaving was very essential. Throughout world civilization there seems to be a connection with traveling and finding one's self. Borat, too, had to leave his country and travel to discover himself. Okay, maybe I'm overdoing it here with the Biblical parallels, but maybe not. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that everything we see we can learn a lesson from. Perhaps one of the lessons that can be derived from Borat is that it is okay to be yourself. Afterall, in America we spend too much money that we do not have trying to impress people we do not like. See, there is a moral lesson in this movie!
If excessive "potty humor" is tolerable to a person, and if one does not easily get offended by non-Politically Correct humor, then s/he will enjoy seeing Borat for its satire value while also enjoying a great 83-minute laugh. (My wife, by the way, hated it!) Five stars out of four. In the words of Borat, "I Like!"
Rabbi Joel Hoffman is a Jewish educator in New Haven, CT.