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“Four Lions”: terrorism and uncomfortable laughter

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What exactly is a “home grown terrorist?” Young Muslims cloned in specially controlled vats hidden in secret greenhouses under guard day and night from elite seven-foot tall Al Qaeda warriors? Deep in his super cave, between watching Arsenal get beat and planning the downfall of “The Great Satan,” does Bin Laden activate his newly matured creations and let them loose on Western society?

Or are they men like Omar in controversial satirist Chris Morris’ new film “Four Lions?” Omar’s married to the beautiful Sophia, has a gorgeous son, owns his house and has an understanding boss who lets him go to Pakistan at short notice for an “emergency wedding.” So why does he want to martyr himself and, in reality, go to a terrorist training camp with the blessing of his wife and child?

Morris has said of his film that it will do for Islamic terrorism what “Dads’ Army” did for the Nazis making them, “scary, but also ridiculous.” In actual fact “Four Lions” more closely resembles an episode of “Citizen Smith” – as if Paul Greengrass directed it. Like Wolfie Smith, Omar leads a comic bunch of misfits and losers as they plot to strike a blow against the corrupt capitalist British government.

Wolfie himself, a lazy, unemployed dreamer whose crimes amounted to upsetting sleeping babies and shooting up some garden gnomes, essentially hamstrung the plans of his revolutionary “Tooting Popular Front”. As confused and unable to articulate his anger as Omar, is he is without doubt a doer and his drive and energy will inevitably lead his cell of bungling incompetents – “they can’t stir a cup of tea without smashing a window” – to commit acts of atrocity that are tragic for both terrorist and innocent victim alike.

The “Four Lions” are in fact five: Omar, his dim-witted best friend Waj, terrible master of disguise and Crow fancier Fessal, a radical white Muslim convert Barry and his wack rapper recruit Hassan. Morris highlights the group’s plans as both preposterous and monstrous leading to some hilariously uncomfortable laughs from jihad video bloopers, Party Puffin Chat rooms and a police marksman debating if the Wookie they just killed counts as a bear or not, “It must be the target because I shot it.”

Crucially we never find out what, if anything, radicalised the “Lions.” Morris intelligently leaves that for the audience to decide, as all five are as much products of Great Britain as they are of Islam, perhaps more so. Even when they describe their martyrdom they reference the very symbols of the capitalist culture they wish to destroy, comparing heaven to the “Rubber Dinghy Rapids” ride at Alton Towers or using “The Lion King” as an allegory for the struggle against the West.

“Four Lions” was always going to be controversial due to the subject matter and the man who once opened a “Brass Eye” special with the words, “Welcome to Paedogedon” when tackling the media’s hysteria surrounding paedophilia. Its release date is on the same weekend as Victory in Europe day, and so soon after the London Marathon, the setting of the climatic scenes of devastation in the film, and it has certainly got under the skin of some of the media.

A few members of the families who lost relatives in the July 7th bombings in 2005 have also urged cinemas and audiences to boycott the film. Graham Foulkes whose 22-year-old son David was killed by the terrorists agreed that satire had a place when dealing with terrorism but said of “Four Lions”:

“It’s very specific. It’s aligned to what happened in 2005 and they talk about bombing in London. That’s not parodying or being a satire about terrorists. It’s making money about a specific attack.”

“Four Lions” is not the biting savagery of “Brass Eye” or the dark surrealism of “Jam,” but a film that is very funny, terrifying and deeply moving in parts. Mr Foulkes went on to defend Morris’ right to make “Four Lions” and so should we. Morris is our one true comic genius and if we can’t trust him to make a thought-provoking movie on this most complex issue facing Britain in the 21st Century then who else do we turn to?