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Controversy? Politics? Absurdity? “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” Delivers

Phony reporter Borat Sagdiyev first captured the nation’s attention in 2006, when Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie “Borat” hit theaters. Fourteen years later, weeks before the national election, Borat has appeared again. The first film featured hilarious interviews with unsuspecting people, startling many with their not-so-subtle racism, sexism, homophobia, and other prejudices. Now, Cohen argues, these issues no longer need to be revealed; they are overt, showcased daily by President Trump.

The movie starts with Kazakhstan’s Premier sending Borat on a mission to give Trump the gift of “Johnny the Monkey” in an effort to redeem Kazakhstan in the eyes of the United States. After Borat’s daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) is denied permission to accompany him, she stows away in Johnny the Monkey’s crate - but, less heroically, eats him along the way. Without Johnny, fifteen-year-old Tutar becomes the gift of choice.

What ensues is a followup to Cohen’s first extravagant social experiment. Borat makes a fool of people on camera, convincing a store owner to sell him a cage for his daughter “like Melania’s.” In another instance, he enlists a cashier to help him in a hilarious fax conversation with the Premier about Johnny’s death. Cohen even stays with two right-wing conspiracy theorists at the beginning of coronavirus shutdowns, staying in-character as Borat for over 100 hours straight.

The movie, of course, is hilarious. But its comedy is not the only thing that caught the eye of the media. Several controversies were sparked, including when Baron Cohen tricked a Holocaust survivor into believing the film was a documentary. Perhaps most significantly, in the second half of the movie, Tutar presents herself as a reporter for a right-wing news source and finagles an interview with Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City now better known as Trump’s loyalist litigator. After a flirtatious introduction and brief interview between the two, Tutar invites Giuliani for “drinks in the bedroom.” Giuliani is then seen rolling back on the bed, reaching into his trousers. At this point, Cohen runs in to defuse the situation, wearing women’s lingerie to add to the ridiculousness of the scene and reminding Giuliani that Tutar is fifteen (Bakalova, though, is 24). Giuliani later claimed he was only adjusting his mic, which was wrapped around the inside of his shirt, and later went on record saying, “At no point in the interview was I ever inappropriate. If Sacha Baron Cohen implies otherwise he is a stone-cold liar.” He also called the bedroom scene “a complete fabrication.” Many, including Baron Cohen, are unconvinced. In an interview with Good Morning America, he said, “I just urge everyone to watch the movie. It is what it is, he did what he did, and make your own mind up. It was pretty clear to us.”

“Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm” certainly carries an anti-Trump message, and its release weeks before the election was no coincidence. Borat himself is pro-Trump and buys in to every right-wing conspiracy theory, phrase, and stance he is presented with, but Baron Cohen makes it clear to the viewer just how ridiculous these webs of lies are. He doesn’t actually believe that the Clintons have been grooming children for years as part of a massive sex-trafficking ring, but he makes it clear that plenty of people do. His ridiculous character, in a way, adds to the message of the movie, emphasizing the stupidity of some of the things he is told. In a piece Baron Cohen wrote with Time Magazine, he claimed “These conspiracy theories threaten to kill democracy as we know it.” While Borat 2 is incredibly funny, the purpose of Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest film is anything but comedic.