Terrorism is certainly not a light nor a laughable issue, but that doesn't mean you can't make a comedy about it.
At least that's what British filmmaker Chris Morris hopes.
He has created four fictitious jihadists for the big screen in the uber-black, slapstick comedy “Four Lions,” centered on their idiotic attempts to execute an attack.
Among the antics, the buffoons pathetically attempt to make bombs, convince a dim-witted neighbor they are a band, sing “Toploader” on their mission, and struggle to string together a sentence without cracking up during the making of their martyrdom videos.
While Morris managed to take the sensitive issue of “homegrown terrorists” and make it shockingly farcical and funny, he never actually set out to court controversy, but rather to portray the ridiculousness embedded in the world of extremism.
“I was reading about a serious subject, but kept finding things that were very silly. For example, there were some guys in Yemen that wanted to blow up a U.S. warship with an exploding boat; they got to the quayside at 3 in the morning. They put their launch in the water and filled it with explosives and it sank," Morris told Pop Tarts. “Then there were these Canadians that wanted to assassinate the Canadian Prime Minister, but forgot his name.”
Another thing “Four Lions” does is “humanize” terrorists – giving them names, families and personalities beyond the realm of just wanting to blow themselves, and many others up. In one scene, the group leader Omar uses characters from Disney’s “The Lion King” to teach his nine-year-old son about martyrdom.
“People don’t expect to form any emotional connection with these guys, but somehow during the film, they feel some are worse than others. People are surprised to get to that point,” Morris said. “But we see their (the terrorists') humility and the failings of that are very clear.”
Morris claims he has yet to receive hate mail or be bombarded by angry Islamic organizations, victims of terrorist attacks, their relatives, or from people in the military who may have lost friends or been personally involved in suicide attacks.
However, when "Four Lions," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010, opened in the U.K. in May, it was met by protests from some families who had lost relatives in the 2005 London subway bomb attacks. Grahame Russell, whose son was killed in the attacks, told the BBC News that the filmmakers were "morally bankrupt."
The film only recently found a U.S. distributor. It opens in select U.S. cities over the coming weeks. So what will the reaction here be?
“People laugh all the way through – it’s not being gratuitous and trying to trivialize death, it’s serious but finds comedy in the subject,” Morris said. “You might use shock to mock overblown public attitudes to things that don’t matter, but terrorism does matter. You don’t have to mock Islamic beliefs to make a joke out of someone who wants to run the world under Sharia law, but can’t apply it in his own home because his wife won’t let him. Or someone buying bomb making materials and then forgetting how to make a bomb.”
Former British Army Captain Patrick Hennessey, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was the target of a suicide bombing himself, was amused.
“For a split second I’m back in the smell and the heat and the fear of such an attack,” he wrote in his online review. “Then I’m doubled over again in fits of laughter.”
Kamal Nawash of the Free Muslims Coalition believes the film may benefit the Muslim community.
“The jihadists generally describe themselves as selfless people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of good and to stop injustice against Muslims,” he told us. “‘Four Lions’ discredits and tears down the image that the jihadist try to paint for themselves, it eliminates the intrigue and mystique associated with the jihadist and instead shows them as a bunch of confused and uncertain idiots.”
- Deidre Behar contributed to this report.