Movie Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Movie Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

How deep do your beliefs go

By Mark HadleyWednesday 22 May 2013MoviesReading Time: 3 minutes

Rating: M
Distributor: Rialto
Release Date: May 23, 2013

The events of September 2011 gave the world a whole new way to see itself. On the one hand it became clear that postmodernism was a bankrupt philosophy. No one could maintain the right for all people to be guided by their own truth in a world where thousands of innocents died at the hands of terrorists. One the other hand, the same events cautioned us about the pursuit of absolute beliefs. We may hold that there are ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ after all, but how we go about protecting and promoting them says important things about their legitimacy. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a film that has risen out of this tension, opposed to fundamentalism but sincerely concerned with finding the ‘fundamentals’.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is based on the Mann-Booker Prize nominated novel by Mohsin Hamid and is primarily set in Lahore, Pakistan. Changez, a young university lecturer sits in a café being interviewed by a journalist called Bobby, who is working for the CIA. He is accused of espousing anti-American rhetoric and of being involved in the kidnapping of a US professor. Changez asks Bobby to withhold his judgment until he has heard his entire story. He proceeds to tell him that, “Looks can be deceiving. I’m actually in love with America.”

Changez grew up in a prestigious Pakistani family that has since fallen on hard times. By grit and determination he puts himself through Princeton and eventually gains a position at a prestigious Wall Street firm. Underwood Samson is in the business of determining how much profit a company can earn, and assigning it a value. Changez’ determination to apply the fundamentals of economics to the businesses around him sees him rise quickly to the position of associate, and his personal ‘American Dream’ seems assured. His Pakistani nationality is just amusing. When his friends ask him his ambitions, he replies:

“In 25 years I’m going to be the dictator of an Islamic Republic with nuclear capabilities.”

– and they laugh off the joke. But 9-11 rocks Changez’ world, resulting in racial profiling at the airport, a false arrest and racism in the workplace. He realizes a different fundamentals are now being applied and they begin with the colour of his skin. He eventually resigns his position and returns to Pakistan, where he becomes embroiled in the kidnapping that begins the story.

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a taught political thriller and I’ll leave it to the filmgoer to work out whether or not Changez’ brush with American fundamentalism sends him into the arms of Islamic fundamentalists. However his peril raises a serious question for every denizen of the 21st century, even those in far off Australia. No sooner do we reject postmodernism and rediscover a belief in something, then we have to ask ourselves what we actually believe?

Changez realizes that the Islamists who aim to recruit him have something in common with his Wall Street partners, a black and white way of seeing the world:

“These men were engaged in their own evaluation, moving people in and out of binary columns. Faithful – infidel. Alive – dead.”

For Changez it’s this binary way of seeing the world that causes all of the problems in New York and Lahore alike. Seeing the world in terms of them and us only breeds inequality and injustice. He tells his students they have to decide how they will come together as a nation, rather than embrace division.

Christians have been responsible for causing similar pain in the world whenever we have encouraged Jesus’ followers to see themselves as separate, even superior to the people around them. We should remember that benefiting from Christ’s grace does not make us superior, only saved. But Changez overreaches when he encourages his friends to improve themselves and install unity as a new fundamental. There is a fundamental that links all human beings; it is the reason Jesus went to the cross. If The Reluctant Fundamentalist demonstrates one thing it’s that we are incapable of redeeming ourselves. Anger, suspicion and selfishness always intervene. The fundamental that Christians should promote first and foremost is that we are desperately in need of help, and Jesus has died that we might have it.