A movie for every day of the year – a good one
The London Bombings, 2005
On this day in 2005, a series of bombs went off in London, UK. 52 people were killed, more than 700 were injured. The bombs went off in the rush hour, just before 9am, on three Tube trains and a bus, all full of people. The three Tube bombs went off within 50 seconds of each other. The bus bomb exploded around an hour later. The bombs were carried onto the transport system by four men aged between 18 and 30, three of them from Leeds, one with a wife and young child, another with a pregnant wife. All of the men died in the explosions. In a videotaped statement made before they carried out the attacks, one of the men, Mohammad Sidique Khan, rationalised his actions thus: “Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate [sic] atrocities against my people all over the world… I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters.” As London mayor Ken Livingstone quickly pointed out in the aftermath of the bombings, Muslims were also the victims of the bombings.
Four Lions (2010, dir: Christopher Morris)
Describing Chris Morris as a comedian isn’t quite hitting the nail on the head. He’s a provocateur, the sort of man who finds something suspect and then pokes a stick at it to see what happens. In his cult TV series Brass Eye he got celebrities to sign up to a bogus campaign against paedophilia called “Nonce Sense”. He also whipped up a hysterical reaction to a non-existent drug called Cake (which affects a non-existent part of the brain called Shatner’s Bassoon), to the point where members of parliament were asking questions in the House of Commons.
In Four Lions Morris turns his gimlet eye on the demonisation of Muslims in a “comedy” that’s actually remarkably free of laughs, is often more an exercise in wrong-footing. So what does make Muslim guys carry out bombing atrocities – is the question Morris asks obliquely, as it follows the four “lions” planning an attack. There are in fact five guys, four who see themselves as the real deal, because they have brown skin and were born to Pakistani immigrant families. The other has red hair and the palest white skin, and is a convert to Islam. He’s the one the other guys pick on. Regardles of their family origin, all of them, from their top to their toes, are British to the very core of their being, from the way they talk to the way they dress and behave, though none of them see it this way, all preferring to paint themselves in the colours of the outsider (David Baddiel’s film The Infidel comes at this culture/ethnicity tangle from a different direction). Not for nothing has Morris called the film Four Lions, a reference to the three lions on the England football shirt.
The lions’ plot, once they hit upon one – they’re not very bright – is to take part in the London Marathon and to blow themselves up as they run. On the way we’ve learned that one of them wants to blow up a chemist’s shop, “because it sells condoms that make you want to bang white girls,” we’ve watched the guys trying to blow up a sheep, we’ve seen one of them punch himself in the face. Dumb.
In Morris’s world actions have unintended consequences, conversations veer wildly off track, stupid stuff happens by accident. He’s as much lampooning depictions of this sort of thing as the thing itself. Take the conversation they have about the atrocity they’re planning – the “should we or shouldn’t we?” conversation – in which one of the doubters is having second thoughts about blowing himself up. “Don’t ask your brain, ask your heart,” says Omar (Riz Ahmed) to Waj (Kayvan Novak), in a lightbulb moment taking inspiration from a billion Hollywood movies where feeling is prioritised over thinking. After a pause Waj says, “My heart says no,” temporarily dumbfounding Omar, and incidentally giving Hollywood the middle finger.
Why do people do these things, asks Morris. His answer: a cocktail of testosterone, the usual young man’s affected antipathy to anything he can’t master and stupidity, with Islam a very distant fourth, just about sticking the previous three together into something that is not really a coherent whole. Scoring few points for political correctness, and playing terrorism for laughs won’t be everybody’s cup of sweet tea, and Four Lions is also clearly suffering a bit from TV-sketch-itis. But as a corrective to the government and mainstream media message about radicalised Islam, it’s absolutely bang on.
- Co-written by Bain and Armstrong, of In the Loop
- The brilliant cast
- The laughs, when they come, are big
- Look out for Benedict Cumberbatch
© Steve Morrissey 2014