Release Date: May 16
There are some films you review because you think they’ll have something interesting to say; there are others you review because lots of people will have things to say about them. The Dictator is a film that should, by all rights, have nothing serious to say but it’s surprising how insightful it manages to be.
The Dictator tells the story of Admiral General Aladeen, the supreme benevolent dictator of the North African country of Wadiya, who is determined to save his lovingly oppressed people from the evils of democracy. Between executing people who get in his way in stairwells and winning his own Olympic Games, Aladeen is attempting to develop nuclear weapons in order to wipe his infidel enemies off the map. But sabre-rattling from the UN results in him travelling to New York to address its general assembly. Aladeen’s enemies see it as an opportunity to replace him with a more manageable double. However their assassination fails and the deposed dictator finds himself trying to make his way in Brooklyn while plotting his return to the throne. In so doing he comes in contact with a range of environmentalists and activists, including the woman destined to be the love of his life.
Before we go any further read the rating of this film very carefully and note that it is written, produced and stars Sacha Baron Cohen, a comedian known for breaking rather than bending social boundaries. Previous projects like Borat and Bruno are a fair indication of what viewers can expect: mature themes, sexual innuendo, strong language and some nudity. So buying a ticket means thinking very carefully about your tolerance of worldly content. The Dictator is a satire that sets out to offend sensibilities and often does so in very puerile ways. Despite its comic insights it’s doubtful any Christian would consider the content edifying.
That said, you might have teenage kids who are going to be queuing up regardless of the warnings. In that case it can be helpful to be aware of the specs of gold dotted amongst the dross. Cohen spends the majority of the film leading us to laugh at Aladeen’s outdated attitudes. Standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, the dictator makes a stirring speech committing himself to the preservation of oppressive regimes everywhere, while mirroring the same language Martin Luther King Jr. used to bolster personal freedom:
“From the mountains of North Korea to the jungles of Zimbabwe every child labourer and sweat shop worker will say, ‘Oppressed at last, oppressed at last – thank Aladeen I’m oppressed at last!’”
But every now and then he uses the same character to point out our own prejudices. Speaking in an unintelligible Arabic language aboard a helicopter cruising over the New York skyline is cause enough for arrest. And Aladeen lectures the American media on presenting dictatorships so negatively –
“In a dictatorship you can give most of your country’s wealth to 1% of the people and let them gamble with it – and bail them out when things go wrong. You can fill your prisons with a majority of just one ethnic group – and no-one will say anything!”
The message is clear: while we’re busy laughing at uneducated tyrants, we’d best spend some time considering our own tyrannical behaviour. Jesus no doubt had audiences smirking when he lectured the self-righteous of his own day: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own?” Laughing at Aladeen’s blindness might be a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, but concluding that his faults make us faultless is more than a little shortsighted.