My biggest complaint with Morgan Spurlock’s last film SUPER SIZE ME was the inevitable feeling that you always got when a director narrates/stars in his own work: the risk that what he says and does can intentionally or unintentionally come off as really presumptuous, sometimes resulting talking down to an audience rather than educating or inspiring. This is even harder when making a film to appeal to a broad demographic as you often have to entertain rather than provide strict facts and it is a problem that documentary filmmakers from Werner Herzog to, most obviously, Michael Moore have faced. However, Morgan has found a fantastic balance: WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? is a near-perfect mix of style.
In the beginning of the film we learn Morgan’s wife is pregnant, prompting him to ask himself, “How can I allow my child to grow up in such an unsafe world?” Though definitely tongue-in-cheek, this average and perfectly legitimate question leads him to the question of global terrorism and he decides to do what anyone in any big budget American action film does: a stupid ordinary guy fights back. Using his wife’s pregnancy as a backdrop, he travels to Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and finally Pakistan to attempt to come to the conclusion of where Osama bin Laden is.
As an American college student, I can safely say that I am aware that the United States’ foreign policy has not exactly put us in a good image for the rest of the world. Morgan Spurlock investigates what seemingly completely different cultures think of us and attempts to break the barriers of what common American propaganda has taught us about the Middle East. He interviews civilians, military officers, poor people, rich people, various relatives of Osama and other known al Qaeda operatives, government officials, heads of departments, and just people on the street to try to understand why the so-called “war on terror” is really as ridiculous as it appears to be. He tries to dispel common stereotypes about Americans while at the same time learning more about cultures and religions that we ourselves grossly stereotype to learn that we’re really not all that different.
The film’s greatest strength is the fact that Morgan learns with the audience. It does not feel like he is preaching to you, but you and him are both on this journey, from speaking to the Jews about Palestinians and the Palestinians about Jews, to finding relatives of known terrorists who watch professional wrestling and having dinner with farmers in the ghettos of Iraq while discussing raising kids.
It helps illuminates one of the world’s greatest disappointments: how the people who are the most extreme and the most negative are the only people we care to think about, how the moderates majority’s opinions are not represented, and ultimately how people are alike all over despite cultural barriers and popular stereotypes. All we are asked to find out if Osama bin Laden really is the most dangerous man in the world? Is Osama really the problem or is he the symptom of a bigger problem? Do the people we think like him even really like him?
It is a very good balance of an entertaining, mass-appealing film that neither dumbs down its material nor treats its audience like idiots or the director like a genius. It is also a very humanistic film, showing how the many good people are all too often overshadowed by the few evil ones who just happen to have more power and influence. I hope that more Americans, particularly ones constantly fed gross stereotypes and lies by their government get to see this film. Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?
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