Monday, June 25, 2012

The Good Dictator

The difference between Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator and Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator is revealed by the title. Sacha’s Baron Cohen’s Dictator (actually directed by Larry Charles from a script written by Cohen and others) is not great and by losing the adjective Cohen is implicitly, perhaps even explicitly paying homage to a master. Anyone who has been named Dick after his father understands what this means, when they remember back to being called “little Dick.” Still The Dictator is good, very good and, in fact, somewhat underrated. The humor of the movie derives right from Plautean farce which revels in the use of the double. In this regard, casting Ben Kingsley as Tamir (the venomous uncle) who is a dead ringer for Hamid Karzai in a movie which is a general takedown of the entire leadership of the planet is one of the most inspired choices in comic film history. The humor of The Dictator, or shall we call it The Good Dictator, parodies not only the Bin Ladens, Gadaffis and Kim Jong-ils of the world (The Dictator is dedicated to the recently departed Korean tyrant)--but the whole bulwark of global political discourse which is based upon afflatus. Democracy itself is the largest offender within pantheon of satirized ideologies, to the extent that the freedom it offers is often false advertising. The climactic scene in which Sacha Baron Cohen restored to his throne is about tear up a document calling for an end to his dictatorship and then reverses himself proves that the movie should really be called The Good Dictator since both the character and satire are good at heart. This scene which inevitably gives audience members a chance to sheepishly grin after a tiring 80 or so minutes of roaring is an example of comic wish fulfillment. As in say Midsummer Night’s Dream the topsy-turvy universe in which two Middle Easterners talking about the 2012 model of the Porsche 911 can be thrown into jail and signs in a restaurant warn that “violators will be waterboarded” is set back to normal with Baron Cohen’s character General Aladeen marrying an Amherst educated fem-lit major who doesn’t shave her armpits and runs a vegan grocery store. If that sounds far flung then tone Aladeen down to the level of benevolent despot and you get King Hussein of Jordan who married the Princeton educated Lisa Halaby who became Queen Noor.  Of course Hussein wouldn’t have asked “are you having a boy or an abortion?” as Aladeen does, when his wife tells him she’s pregnant.

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