Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?
There is a category of cinema that is often forgotten. Sure there is an Academy Award for it but a lot of people take a bathroom break during that portion of the ceremony. This lamented genre is the documentary. Unless the film stirs up a huge amount of controversy the more casual fan of movies will not plan to make a trip to the Cineplex to watch one. This is a shame since the documentary can often reveal valuable insight into parts of our society that we may never have previously considered. One of the latest documentaries to hit your DVD shelves is ‘Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden’ by Morgan Spurlock. In this film Spurlock travels to the Middle East to see how they have been affected by the recent global war on terrorism. There are a lot of films that look at how this new period in world attitudes have been received here in the States but this is one of the first to take this particular viewpoint. While there are some problems in the presentation this film starts off with a fascinating premise that is current and of interest to a general audience. With every politician on a soap box declaring the global menace of Mid East terrorism it is not difficult at all for the man on the street to think that everyone of this cultural descent is out to get us. All the talking head news programs are full of rhetoric of the danger inherent in their religion and way of life. It is easy to demonize an entire people. This has been done since before the start of recorded history. What Spurlock attempts to do is pull back the cloak of mystery and show what is going on in these countries; not with their leaders but with their typical citizens. This is far from a perfect movie and it has more than its share of missteps along the way but it should serve to make you think with a different frame of reference in your mind. That is one of the goals of any documentary; to provoke thought and discussion. With that in mind this film can be considered successful.
Usually there is a little bit of doubt when a film maker has too many hyphens in his credits. In this film Spurlock was the star-director-writer-producer. While this is not uncommon especially with a documentary there is a danger of the film maker become too absorbed with his own personality to the determent of the subject matter. This has been one of the major criticisms of the films of Michael Moore. In this film Spurlock makes Moore look downright modest. It seems as if Spurlock has some form of attention deficient disorder as he jumps around in his narration. This not only makes following the flow of the film difficult it quickly becomes annoying. The subject matter is of a nature that would be able to carry itself. Instead we get a travelogue of Spurlock’s meandering journey through the Middle East. Still, there is enough of a message here that comes through despite the best attempts of the director to derail it. There is an important point being made by this film and that is Americans, as a people, are one of the most culturally centric people in the world. While travel between countries is common in places like Europe here in the states most of us go from home to work and back to home again. If during a vacation we do go to another country all too many of us expect the same comforts as back home. Spurlock at least makes an effort to engage the common people of the nations he visited.
The film begins with a voice over by Spurlock how we can go along in life thinking things are good and couldn’t get better. Then, out of the blue something forever changes that view of the world. For Spurlock it was the announcement of his new wife that she was pregnant. This section is done for laughs with a cartoonish segment of Alexandra holding a half dozen home pregnancy test kits. He wonders how he could keep his child safe. At home it is easier but there is a big scary world out there filled with all sorts of dangerous people. He considers things beyond his control like natural disasters and finally ponders the threat of the most dangerous man on the planet; Osama Bin Laden. We have the strongest military, sneakiest spies and best technology and our government still cannot find him after years of looking. The You Tube style video he inserts here is funny and is apparently an attempt to start with a light tone to a serious subject. He decides that it is up to him to make the world safe for his up coming child and find Bin Laden on his own. His first stop is to his doctor for the myriad of inoculations that he will need for his impending travels. He then takes a quick personal protection class to help prepare him for the bad guys he is sure to meet. There is also the fact that the U.S. State Department has issued over one hundred travel warnings for the countries he wants to go to. Americans are more likely than ever to be the targets of violence in these places. It may have been crazy to live on nothing but McDonald’s fast food for a month but this plan crosses the border over to insanity in many ways especially with a new wife and a baby on the way. After his training and preparation has turned Spurlock into an international man of action he was ready for his first country. He wanted to understand Bin Laden as a man and go to the places that shaped him meeting the people who influenced him. He starts off in Egypt since it is the birth place of high ranking Al-Qaeda member, Ayman Zawahiri. From there he roves around the Mid East to Morocco where he swaps parenting stories with people living in make shift housing and to Afghanistan where families are still living in United Nations provided tents. Spurlock uses a video game approach to tie the segments together which can get on your nerves after a while. Overall the best thing about this film is the way Spurlock interacts with the local populations. He is never condescending; never the ugly American. His naturally affable manner seems to transcend nicely to other cultures and languages. Not everybody is friendly though. Some of the people he crosses paths with genuinely do not like Americans and make no attempt to hide the fact. It comes across here that it is true that there are extremists out there bent on the downfall of our culture but for the most part people are people just trying to get through life in the best way possible.
The documentary is released to DVD by Genius Productions and The Weinstein Company. They are a great source of films that range from the odd to the spectacular as well as the best that independent film as to offer. This one could have been better but as it is it holds up as interesting, informative and amusing.