‘Four Lions’ on ‘the hurt’
On my recent summer holiday we were accompanied by a family friend: a man with a keen sense of right and wrong and with great sensitivity to the hurt and distress human beings can cause each other. This being a foreign holiday, the prospect of two weeks trying to decipher the local television did not appeal to him so he brought along his laptop and a choice of DVDs. Being, like myself, from Sheffield, he was interested to see the 2010 film by Christopher Morris: ‘Four Lions’. A tale about four hapless men, who had decided to set up a terrorist cell in the Tinsley district of the town (a building was used close to the two cooling towers which have just been demolished and are no longer visible from the high level bridge that skirts Meadowhall on the M1-an ominous, if unconscious reference to the twin towers of 9/11). In a series of ongoing disasters, they attend a training camp in Pakistan where they blow up Osama bin Ladan’s plane (the film was made before his death); attempt to train crows to carry explosives; make Pythonesque (unknowingly) terrorist videos, in which a would-be killer fondles a small, plastic child’s gun and much more. Having many touching points in style with The Full Monty, there are obvious artistic references throughout to that film, and we observe the comedy and irony that can result when powerless people are in extremis and tinged by tragedy. Designed to be a perceptive and extremely funny skit on fundamentalism and extremism, it was a surprise then to find that my friend was quite disturbed by it, and felt that it was too horrific and chilling a subject to be given such a treatment. To investigate, my wife and I sat down to watch it ourselves and found it achingly hilarious but also-and this is where it might be tinged with genius-quite moving and also challenging for, as funny as it was, there are real people just like the four in the film doing just what they are doing and the reasons were explored, and they were doing all this on the streets of my home town and on streets so familiar to us.
Perhaps the chief achievement of the film is that it exposes the deep rents and divisions which exist within Islam itself. The four in the film are quite definitely portrayed as a small minority and the majority of Muslims portrayed as people of peace and deep faith. A recent radio programme during the memorials for 9/11 by a young Muslim investigated the deep disgust that the ordinary follower of Islam in Britain felt towards the hi-jackers: followed one young Muslim to a terrorist training camp where he found that his fellow foot soldiers were not all the holy and loyal adherents of the Koran he supposed and quickly returned to England. He also examined the reaction of some Muslims to 9/11, and their belief that it was, in fact, a CIA plot and not the work of Islamic terrorists at all, despite all the evidence to the contrary-because they just couldn’t believe that a follower of their Faith could perpetrate such evil.
Having watched ‘Four Lions’, my wife and I left it feeling strangely comforted and not horrified. Indeed, it is very funny and it is that very humour which is the source of hope and light. We think back to the Charlie Chaplin film ‘The Great Dictator’, in which Chaplin made his burlesque Hitler so comic and ridiculous that they very laughter he engendered was a physical token of the rejection of the vile philosophies and actions of the dictator. My son told me that he watched the film in a cinema surrounded by young Asians, presumably some of whom were Muslims-they laughed as long and as hard as everyone at the comic antics of the would-be terrorists and, with their mirth, would dissipate any respect or mystique for the violent option. The work of the film is done, and laughter has, as in so many other ways and places, cut through the cant and hypocrisy, the posturing and the silliness, to show us the error of human ways and give us a saner way forward.
If you can, watch ‘Four Lions’, it’s not one to miss.