I was 18 when Borat came out in 2006, causing a stir that left everyone’s weird uncle with a bad impression at parties for years to come. At the time I didn’t quite catch all the satire, blatant as it was, and instead just took joy in the awkward cringe humor traditional to Sacha Baron Cohen films. Revisiting it over a decade later was a vastly different experience, one that felt unsettling after the last decade of American turmoil. Talks of a sequel have always been out there, but until recently nothing emerged.
Ten days before the US election we’ve been gifted Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, also known as Borat: Gift of Pornographic Monkey to Vice Premiere Mikhael Pence to Make Benefit Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan. It’s pretty funny, but also deeply depressing in a lot of unfortunate ways.
Cohen’s particular brand of comedy was always hit or miss with me. While I enjoy cringe humor, the awkward sputtering in scenarios that make you squirm in your seat, I tend to prefer an outright narrative with cleverly-written jokes instead. I sat through several variations on this kind of funny, not always wholly invested but having a good time here and there. My rewatch of Borat led me to see it as the satire it was meant to be, exposing xenophobic and aggressively privileged cultures seeded throughout America that are slowly having to evolve or die. The “subsequent moviefilm” is timely and biting in a way that isn’t as broad. Rather, it takes shots at the Trump administration alongside the cultures that support it and blatantly asks, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
We find the character of Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) has been imprisoned for the last 14 years, his original film’s success resulting in the mockery of his beloved nation. For unknown reasons, the premiere of Kazakhstan decides to release him so that he may carry a gift to America’s Michael Pence as a way to connect with the administration. Trump has been seen garnering favor with dictators and powerful (though loathsome) individuals around the world and they want in on it. When the first gift idea goes awry the decision is made to give Borat’s daughter, Tutar Sagdiyeva (Maria Bakalova) to the “notorious pussyhound” as a gift instead. Borat must teach her how to be the bride of a powerful man, subservient and sexually open, and takes her on a tour of many American cultural hotspots to show her how to do so. Along the way the COVID-19 pandemic begins and begins to change not only Borat and Tutar, but the nation of Kazakhstan as a whole.
Cohen promoted this film by telling the world that it may literally end political careers. What is here is DEEPLY disturbing and, if this were a decent world, would indeed lead to the end of at least one political career. This ain’t that world, though, so the vile behavior we witness will go unpunished. This won’t influence elections, as most of America has already made their decisions and…well, most of those were decided automatically when the time came.
What I found fascinating is the way that Cohen has found to both mock and be loving towards those he’s satirizing. As he quarantines with QAnon bros he is able to put their conspiracy theories to the wall and piss on them while still showing us that these are men that believe in female intelligence. It was a sweet little set of moments that doesn’t ask you to hate these people, but rather to see where they are and the potential they have if reached properly. I mean, he then goes to a rally where he convinces a bunch of rednecks to gleefully chant about how wonderful they’d find it if they could hold Obama down and inject him with the “Wuhan flu” and “cut up journalists just like the Saudi’s do,” so there’s a depressing moment where I realized that these individuals will most likely not reach their potential due to being battered on all sides by the American war on reality.
As with his first film, Borat’s second outing is largely shot with people that don’t know they’re being satirized or that they’re even on-camera half of the time. This leads to sweet moments with a holocaust survivor alongside horrifying moments with holocaust deniers, but most of it is as real as you could handle. It’s mean, ugly, biting, and utterly hilarious in a very depressing sort of way.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm will please those that loved the first film, but it’s hardly going to bring in new fans and it definitely won’t change the minds of many Americans on where they stand. I do hope it reaches some, though, and I hope it causes many to step back and think about how their behaviors and actions make others feel, as well as how ridiculous they look to anyone slowing down long enough to take stock of their lives.
It’s streaming on Amazon Prime, so if you’re not too pissed at Jeff Bezos to stream it I can say I highly recommend this one.