The Dictator Addresses Tolerance With Humor
Sacha Baron Cohen, best known for his work as Kazakh journalist Borat and Austrian fashionista Brüno, imparts his humor on audiences once again as Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen, supreme leader of the North African state of Wadiya and the title character of this year’s comedic hit The Dictator. General Aladeen, an anti-Western and anti-Semitic ruler, has presided over the fictitious land of Wadiya for over forty years and is working to develop nuclear weapons in his home country. Following outrage and warnings of military intervention by the United Nations Security Council, General Aladeen, an implicit mixture of Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, travels to New York City to address all concerns regarding his plans, and hilarity ensues.
Cohen’s Borat, a mock documentary, made upwards of $240 million. The film was, just as with Brüno, sued for defamation by many of the film’s ‘actors,’ who believed the individuals they were speaking to (Borat, for example) were real people and that as a result they were portrayed as ignorant and depraved individuals, for Cohen’s films ultimately expose prejudice and concealed emotions through humor. However, The Dictator follows a different path than Cohen’s previous films. Though none of his previous characters were malevolent, rather just naïve and perhaps ignorant, General Aladeen, oddly enough, is a much tamer character than Borat or Bruno. Also, instead of being a documentary based upon a fictional character, The Dictator is a scripted film that gives way to spontaneous humor. At times the script feels forced, but this becomes almost insignificant given that Cohen’s acting is fantastic and utterly entertaining, regardless of the script. The film leans towards a sentimental tone by the story’s end, differing from the film’s preceding brash commentary, but the movie remains an outrageous ride.
As supporting characters with relatively minor roles, Anna Faris and Sir Ben Kingsley play an idealistic, feminist lit major and a menacing uncle, respectively, but the film is Cohen’s. General Aladeen, indifferent to the sufferings of the people of Wadiya, surrounds himself with luxury and the Virgin Guard, a squad of 25 female bodyguards outfitted in mini-dresses. Cohen’s accent, humorous in itself, is spot-on and aligns perfectly with his character’s bluntness and sheer irreverence. In a way, this film tests the audience’s tolerance (or intolerance) and the boundaries of political correctness, while in a two–fold manner teasing at the bigotry that exists in our world. When General Aladeen uttered so much as a controversial joke, the audience hesitated, chuckling nervous laughs, but soon the entire theater was filled with uproarious, shameless laughter.
Cohen has been audacious in using to his promotional advantage crass, in-character appearances on well renowned and widely viewed television programs such as the Oscars, where the fictional tyrant ‘accidentally’ spilled the ashes of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il on E! host Ryan Seacrest, or on SNL, where the hilarious despot held Hugo director Martin Scorsese hostage as a means of forcing film critics A. O. Scott and Roger Ebert to grant the film positive reviews. These appearances are a testament to Cohen’s utmost dedication to improvisation and comedic skill and originality. However, after such tireless rounds of self-promotion, it might be easy to imagine the film as repetitive or lacking innovation. Yet the film, in all its obscene glory, is a brilliant, uproarious comedic showcase that never ceases to leave audiences gap–mouthed at the merciless political satire exercised by Cohen.
The Dictator is a film replete with obscenities and consistent provocation. Ultimately, however, this is a film that must be taken with a grain of salt for, regardless of its culturally disgraceful façade and potentially offensive humor, the movie carries an underlying message of tolerance, or, at the very least, co-existence.